When a smartphone is not a smartphone, and a tablet is not a tablet

Like PCs, mobile devices have many types of use -- which don't necessarily map to market share stats

Android smartphones outsell iPhones 3:1 or 4:1 worldwide, depending on whose data you believe. But Android smartphones account for only a third of mobile Web traffic globally, and iPhones account for about a quarter. In the United States, iPhone sales are nearly even with Android sales, but the iPhone accounts for about two-thirds of smartphone Web traffic. For tablets, iPad Web usage also is much higher than its sales percentage would indicate.

How to explain the contradiction between sales and persence on the Web? The answer is that a smartphone isn't necessarily used as one. And neither are tablets.

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Apple's iPhone and iPad are premium devices, as critics like to point out. The folks who buy them tend to really use them -- we saw that phenomenon on Black Friday a few weeks back, where iOS devices comprised the bulk of mobile shopping. iOS users go to websites and interact them, and they use lots of apps, many of which involve Internet connectivity.

The Android world, by contrast, is a mélange of levels, with devices ranging from $49 to $600 for both tablets and smartphones. People who buy the top-of-the-line Android smartphones, whose costs rival that of the iPhone, do as much on the Web and via apps as iPhone users, notes Carolina Milanesi, a mobile analyst at Gartner.

But the bulk of the Android world is made up of users of cheaper devices, notes Ben Bajarain, an analyst at Creative Strategies. He points out that Android is more like the PC market in that it has high-end devices, everyday devices, low-cost devices, and super-low-cost devices. The different classes are used for different purposes, many of which don't involve accessing the Web or even using the Internet. Plus, Chinese users -- a lot of whom buy Android devices from local manufacturers -- don't show up nearly as much as counterparts elsewhere in the world due to China's "great firewall" that limits their access to the non-Chinese Web.

The explosion of sub-$150 tablets across the world is also a factor, Bajarin notes. Many of these devices, if not most, are used essentially as e-readers and virtual DVD players -- Amazon's Kindle line, for example. One segment is used for kids' edutainment apps. Even when they use the Web to get apps or content, they're not perusing the Web at large, so don't tend to show up in Web-tracking studies, which typically are centered around websites that do ad-tracking to get their data.

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