Apple once again saw its mobile operating system return to the top spot. In the fourth quarter of 2014, sales of iOS smartphones edged out Android handsets by 0.1 percent in the U.S., European, and Chinese markets, according to a market analysis by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.
Among other contributing factors, Apple was buoyed by strong Christmas sales and a strong portfolio of products, including the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which were announced at the end of the third quarter. During the same time period, Android saw users sour on the Lollipop version of its operating system, with many denouncing the latest update as being completely unusable.
New Models Driving Sales
"While the success of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is unprecedented, this quarter’s performance also points to Apple having its strongest portfolio ever,” Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, wrote in the report. “With a range of devices available at different price points in both contract and pre-pay, Apple was able to take advantage of a weaker Android offering at the premium end of the market.”
Throughout the holiday quarter, the iPhone 6 was the best-selling smartphone in the U.S. and it was also the most popular smartphone to give as a gift. Samsung retained its number two spot in the vendor chart with the Galaxy S5, which was the second best-selling smartphone.
Across Europe, Android’s share declined by 3.8 percentage points year-over-year to 66.1 percent while iOS rose by 6.2 percentage points. Great Britain had the biggest impact on the decline as iOS grew its share of sales by 13.1 percentage points compared to the same time last year with Samsung, LG and Sony all losing market share both year-over-year and over the previous quarter.
“Italy was the only European market where Android grew,” said Dominic Sunnebo, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Europe. “Considering the strong pre-pay market and the wider direct channel it is not a surprise that Android products, with their value for money proposition, continue to appeal to Italian consumers.”
Apple Leverages Customer Loyalty
Windows Phone, soon to be Windows Phone 10, had seen some success across Europe in 2013 but continued to struggle in the latest period, recording minimal growth only in France and Germany.
Smartphone penetration reached 59 percent in the U.S. and 67 percent across Europe’s top five economies. Meanwhile, emerging markets such as Brazil (35 percent) and Mexico (37 percent) still have a long way to go.
“As the opportunity to attract first-time smartphone buyers in developed economies diminishes, retaining loyal customers is becoming as important as winning them over from competing platforms,” Milanesi said. “Apple’s average customer loyalty of 87 percent across the U.S. and Europe certainly looks promising.”
While Samsung might be feeling some pressure, its brand loyalty remains by far the strongest within the Android ecosystem with an average of 62 percent across the U.S. and big European markets.