The paradox of Android engagement: why you’re not buying enough from your Android device

by: J. Angelo RacomaNovember 28, 2012

The Black Friday weekend is usually a great time for retail establishments and marketers. Through the four days after Thanksgiving in the U.S., stores hold sales and deep discounts to encourage consumer spending. With the rise in popularity of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, these platforms are also increasingly becoming popular as e-commerce — or mobile commerce — platforms.

But while Android is on the rise nominally in terms of devices sold and in its market share, there seems to be a paradox at work. More and more people are buying Android smartphones and tablets. But the rate of engagement or online purchasing activity is not growing as fast.

Data from market analytics firm Asymco confirms this. Researcher Horace Dediu cites IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark’s study that Black Friday sales rose 17.4%, while mobile access grew by 24% from the previous year.

But what’s interesting to note is the dominance of iOS devices in access and online purchases. For instance, smartphones made up 54% of the mobile access, while tablets made up 46%. The iPad dominated tablet traffic at 88%, while Android devices made up the minority. Kindle and Nook devices took 5.5%, Galaxy Tab devices 1.8% and other devices 4%.

From the previous year’s Black Friday, Android devices grew by a factor of 3.4, while iOS devices grew by 4.8. Interestingly, both the iPhone and iPad quickly overtook Android in terms of percentage of Black Friday online shopping activities.

The big question here is what is causing the disparity in behavior. “What is causing phone users to behave differently based on the devices they own?” asks Asymco, noting that the mobile market has grown more mature in the past year. What’s clear with Android at this point is that “engagement is down as ownership is up.”

A few thoughts, based on the analysis:

  • It can be expected that later adopters would engage less. Even as Android devices are selling like hotcakes, users who buy the devices a few years down the line are less likely to be more active in their online shopping.
  • Price is not necessarily a factor. High-end devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3. “The most popular devices are not exactly cheap.”
  • Engagement is not a frivolous platform attribute. This is causal to a platform’s success because engagement leads to cash flows and economic activity (ad revenues, sales). This is particularly relevant to Android as a platform, given that device makers usually depend on more than monetizing hardware.
  • It’s not only shopping data that shows this kind of disparity in behavior between iOS and Android users. “[D]evelopers and publishers have been reporting distinct differences in consumption on iOS vs. Android.”
  • There is something else at play in this “paradox” and it can involve several factors, including design considerations, user experience flaws or integration of e-commerce platforms.

Asymco’s analysis did not say exactly what cause these differences. But the comment thread offers a few interesting insights into how the data could be interpreted. For example, there is question on how exactly Google counts Android activations. Do they double count a device when the device is updated? Another possible reason is the flood of “cheap, badly designed Android phones” that don’t exactly make for a good web browsing or e-commerce experience.

I have a concern with the so-called Android engagement paradox, though. Amazon seems to have found success in its Kindle Fire lineup even if it is selling each device at a loss. They recoup the investment through sales of content and merchandise. Does the Black Friday data mean that device-makers who bank on content sales like Amazon are set to lose out in the long run?

As an Android user, how active are you in buying content and items using your smartphone or tablet?

  • Steven Pickle

    I use both my android phone (at&t Galaxy SII) and nexus 7 tablet to shop online. Didn’t really engage in black friday/cyber monday this year as I couldn’t seem to find any stellar deals.

  • Android Guru

    well, because we can simply get free apps without rooting :D while iOS users must jailbreak then if they were lucky they will find the app that they want, so this why the app store on iOS is high, its not about apps perfomance but its about cracking stuff

    • APai

      no, that’s besides the point. they are primarily talking about people using their phones for commerce – shopping activity etc.

      • Paul Pereirinha

        It isn’t entirely beside the point. If Apple users are using their credit cards more frequently to purchase apps, they are likely to be more inclined to use their credit cards for purchasing other goods too. I’ve never used my credit card once with my Android.

        • APai

          there’s nothing inherently unsafe with an android that one it stops an android user from buying something. it’s upto their particular buying patterns.

          • Paul Pereirinha

            That’s true. All I’m saying is that Apple users’ buying patterns are more likely to include using their credit cards on line more often because they are faced with the need to do it more often than we are. I’m not worried about the security on Android, I just haven’t had the need to use my card just yet because there are so many great apps available for free.

          • APai

            hmm, I believe the larger point here was the buying patterns of people buying stuff via their cellphones. as in groceries and electronics and stuff, or like say book tickets etc.

            while I have been buying travel tickets or stuff online via a cellphone, I’d prefer a PC / laptop any-day over a cellphone. that was my point, i might have got you confused earlier.

          • Paul Pereirinha

            I do understand what you’re saying. But I’m arguing that iOS users are more likely to use their credit cards to purchase goods on line (& while using their iOS devices) than Android users would be while using their Androids because iOS users have practically had to do it from day 1 whilst using iTunes. They already have their card details linked to their device so why not buy some xmas gifts while browsing the net on their iPad? It’s a relatively smaller decision for them to make because they have already made that decision many times before.

          • APai

            ok. yeah – that certainly is the case.

  • APai

    iphone users might be like gollums, forever fondling their tech toys. android users might simply use the PC. a large screen is so much more comfortable and faster to buy something online.

  • Joao Jesus

    I agree with most users here. iPhone users usually are consumers with little to no notion of technology itself. They do what they are told to do based on how cool it is. Android users are usually geeks, nerds, whatever anyone wants to call us, that tend to their online commerce based not only in a safer environment (fixed computer) but in a more comfortable manner, like a larger screen, faster connection and access to online banking.

  • JonE

    It’s obvious isn’t it?

    Apple users are more blind to value and cost saving as evidenced by their purchase of an crapple device – that is undeniable fact.

    Thus they will be generally more prone to reckless spending. Android users are more considered and intelligent people. Fact ;)

    • Kurt Andersen


  • Lorenzo Lomanto

    android store is a crap…that’s all XD

    • MasterMuffin

      Obvious troll is obvious, it’s Google Play

  • Paul Pereirinha

    I think there are probably a number of factors at play here.

    Firstly, all Apple devices are pretty expensive. I suspect Apple customers are more likely to be impulse buyers because they will spend an exorbitant amount of money on a device – usually without considering that there are loads of cheaper, better alternatives out there.

    Second, Apple users are used to using their credit cards on line because one’s experience with the Apple ecosystem is pretty bland unless you’re willing to do so in order to get the best apps/music/etc.

    By contrast, Android’s user base is made up of a more diverse group of people. Some of whom are only able to purchase low-end devices – an indicator of less disposable income. & the users with the top-end devices are (generally-speaking) the type of people of put more thought into a purchase decision. They aren’t as easily swayed by marketing techniques but will instead conduct some research before making their decision.

    Android users don’t have to use their credit cards in order to have a great experience on their devices because more apps are made available for free than on iOS and music is easily transferable between devices.

    • MasterMuffin

      ^ true dat

    • AndroidBrian

      Real cause is Androids open source and 3rd party apps its easier to pirate apps and Movies and books. Android users are usually more tech savvy and are aware of means to get certain apps and movies for free. IPhone users want something simple and ready out the box. I’m afraid piracy is the number one reason why. Android users don’t just magically download less apps and watch less movies.

    • carlisimo

      I’ve switched over from iOS to Android, and I don’t agree with most of this. Both are about the same before you download any apps, unless you find carrier bloatware useful. iOS has a very large number of good free apps. To my surprise, when apps were available on both, they were often cheaper on iOS. And plenty of iOS users fill their devices with media that wasn’t purchased in iTunes. As for devices, the good ones are about the same price ($650, excluding Nexuses) and old iPhones are available to compete against lesser Android phones. You can buy an iPhone3GS for a low price on eBay now, and it’s surprisingly smooth on iOS6. (Shockingly so, compared to any Android phone of the same age; my previous phone, a Nexus S, had much better specs but would stutter and hang much more than a 3GS even after upgrading to Jelly Bean.)

      I do agree that the cheap Android phones carriers push so hard are a big part of this. T-Mobile still offers the G2 (refurbished to include HSPA+), which came out in the Froyo days! It isn’t even free on contract. If the Nexus S is slow, I can’t imagine trying to browse on that thing. I wonder how many people are turned off by poor performance and stick to text and email. I also assume a lot of people get smartphones just for email, otherwise I’d be shocked by the low engagement stats.

  • MasterMuffin

     “The iPad dominated iPad traffic…”
    Isn’t that quite obvious? :)

    • jangeloracoma

      Hmm. And it’s not even a hundred percent! Some of those iPad users are certainly not using their iPads to browse! LOL. Thanks for pointing out this slip-up.

      • MasterMuffin

        No prob :D

    • jangeloracoma

      Fixed. Thanks again.

  • zebra

    android is either tech people or non tech. the non tech buy the cheap or free phone and never learn what it does and don’t care they just want a phone. I would imagine most android traffic is from flagship devices. most tech people that use android have crazy awesome computer to use for internet shopping, dual screen first person shopper.

  • Franz

    I’m very active on my Nexus 7 with wifi at home, not as much on my Nexus 4, since I don’t think about shopping while I’m out and about doing stuff or going to work. The Amazon App helps a lot though.

    Newegg has a really good app too.