Apple vs Adobe: some surprising statistics

21 Sep 2010

I recently came across a very interesting bit of analysis on the Macworld site. According to a survey by Net Markets based on usage share across 160 million unique visitors spread over 40,000 websites:

"Apple's iOS mobile operating system is now the third most popular platform on the internet, with a share nearly six times larger than Android's… more than enough to shove Linux off its perch as the third-place operating system on the web."

Now that really does sound impressive, especially in the context of some quotes from Vince Vizzaccaro, a Net Applications vice president, regarding overall mobile share and the iOS percentage: “Mobile's growth curve is strong and mobile is becoming quite a phenomenon on the internet… That's massive when you think about it… we're seeing iOS totally dominate the market on the web.”

So just what are these amazing figures?

You may well be as surprised as I was to discover that the “massive” overall mobile share is 2.6%, and the iOS figure is well under half of that, at an extraordinary… 1.1%!

Now I’m not saying these figures are irrelevant (clearly in demographic terms, it’s a very important 1.1%), nor that they aren’t rising. But “massive”? Surely when you call a share “massive” it ought to at least form the majority. For example, looking at the similar web share figures collected by Stat Owl, I was surprised at the percentage of browsers with Silverlight installed on their system. Although the platform is generally seen as never fully taking off, Stat Owl puts Silverlight penetration at 51%.

Of course the technology with the biggest web share of all is Flash. A while back I wrote a blog questioning Adobe’s claims for Flash penetration. Sure enough the Stat Owl figure is lower than Adobe’s - but it still comes in at 97%.

Now let’s not quibble about 2.6% here or 1.1% there. It’s clear that with a greater share than Windows (91% according to Net Markets) and Mac OS (5%) combined, Flash has by far the most legitimate claim on the title “massive”. Or, as Adobe puts it, Flash is “the world’s most pervasive software platform”.

1.1% v 97%: Steve Jobs v the web

This all casts a very different light on the current battle between Apple and Adobe in which Flash is generally seen as yesterday’s technology, desperately clinging on but about to be steamrollered from the web by the oncoming Apple juggernaut.

This has important practical implications. Based on this popular perception, and Steve Jobs’ dismissal of Flash as yesterday's technology,  designers the world over are busily redesigning their sites and changing their workflows to avoid using a perfectly legitimate web technology that proves itself extremely useful in a whole host of different scenarios (which is how Flash built up its near-universal penetration in the first place) and which is set to prove even more important going forward in the era of cloud-based computing.

Now it turns out that we are being asked to go to all this effort and to deliberately limit ourselves and our output to reach just an additional 1.1% of web browsers. Moreover there’s little doubt that, if they were given any say in the matter, the overwhelming majority of that 1.1% would choose to see Flash and Silverlight content (presumably including  those who choose to block Flash content by default in their desktop browsers but still install the player).

To top it all, Jobs’ apparent underlying justification that Flash inherently cannot be made to work in the mobile environment - even on the iPad - is spurious. There are challenges to overcome, but every other mobile manufacturer apart from Apple – including Google, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM – is currently working with Adobe to bring the mobile-optimised 10.1 Flash player to their devices. With initiatives such as Nvidia's Tegra, Flash should eventually become the natural cross-OS and cross-browser web platform for devices, just as it is for the desktop.

Rather than the web at large falling into line with Steve Jobs’ vision for the future (built around iTunes and the App Store), it’s time for Steve Jobs to fall into line with the web, including its player add-ons and its core principles of openness, extensibility and universality.

At least when Bill Gates held the web to ransom he had the decency to first establish a dominant position. In Steve Jobs’ case, with only 1.1% market share, the would-be emperor isn’t even wearing any clothes.

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