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Android engagement paradox explained: why the low engagement rates don't necessarily mean Android is a bad platform

Android devices are on the rise, but engagement and commerce seems to have plateaued. Here are a few explanations on why iOS still leads in user engagement.
December 3, 2012

In the previous week, we featured an analysis by Asymco based on IBM research that points to an interesting phenomenon in the mobile industry in the U.S. While Android market share is on the rise, its engagement rate is not growing as fast as with the other leading mobile platform, notably iOS. While Asymco did not venture to give an exact reason as to this so-called engagement paradox, a few possible explanations were offered.

These include the possibly disparity in income levels, given that the barrier to entry to the iPhone is higher, with all the inexpensive, entry-level devices running Android. This does not mean that Android users earn less in general, but that people who opt for cheap Android phones may not exactly be getting the same experience as those using more expensive higher-end devices. Also, the analysis did not discount the fact that the more popular Android phones are not exactly cheap — take the Galaxy S3 and Note 2 for instance, which are considered premium devices.

Tech Thoughts dug deeper into the analysis, and brought in additional figures from NetApplications. Here are a few highlights:

  • Users are more likely to browse the web using tablet computers than smartphones. Hence, the data is skewed toward the iPad and even Android tablets, given that users will naturally feel more comfortable browsing — and making purchases — from a device with a bigger screen. And given the iPad’s dominance in the tablet market today, this might contribute toward iOS’ dominance in engagement, as well.
  • Android’s growth is driven mostly by smartphones. And until mid-2012, growth has been primarily driven by Android 2.3 Gingerbread. According to the Tech Thoughts analysis, the lower engagement rates brought about by Android use may have been due to user interface issues. In particular, the stock browser in pre-4.0 devices has reportedly had complaints about rendering non-mobile optimized webpages.
  • The “utilization factor” in Android 4.0 has improved dramatically, which means user engagement is likely to grow, too, as more ICS and Jelly Bean devices populate the market.
  • Then there’s the “browser usage” versus “engagement” question, in which the author posits that the disparity in engagement between iOS and Android users may be due to factors like choice of device. Android users lead iOS devices in browsing over the cellular network, which may mean that users either have no WiFi access or prefer to use alternative devices when they do — such as another tablet or a desktop computer.

In essence, while the earlier analysis by Asymco left out any possible cause for the so-called engagement paradox, Tech Thoughts says it’s likely to have been influenced by limitations related to OS versions. Yes, Android shipments and activations are growing, and yes, users are not as active in their browsing and online purchase activities as with iOS. But that’s probably because many of these devices are lower-end Android smartphones that don’t exactly give users an excellent browsing experience.

If you’ve experienced browsing using different devices — from low-end to high-end, and with different screen sizes and OS versions — would you agree with this interpretation?