Devices powered by Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android operating system now account for more Web traffic than rival mobile gadgets made by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), according to recently released data from analytics company Net Applications.
The gap in usage is far from staggering -- indeed, it comes down to a difference of just 0.43% -- but it is a significant milestone. Despite far outpacing Apple's products in global market share, Android-powered devices have previously lagged in user engagement, a fact that Apple's management has frequently touted.
With engagement rising, Android's mammoth market share may finally give its ecosystem an edge.
Android engagement is growing
In July, devices powered by Google's mobile operating system accounted for 44.62% of global Web traffic, up significantly from roughly 28% last August. Some of this growth seems to have come at the expense of dying mobile operating systems (Symbian, for example), but Apple's iOS share also dropped from over 55% in October 2013 to 44.19% last month.
To Apple's credit, its mobile devices are still massively over-represented when it comes to Web traffic. The iPhone accounted for just 11.9% of the smartphones shipped in the second quarter compared to more than 85% for Android, according to Strategy Analytics, while iPad sales have been in decline.
Nonetheless, the law of large numbers may finally be catching up to Apple's mobile ecosystem. Even if Android users are, on average, less engaged, their sheer numbers appear to be overwhelming iOS.
Apple's management has used engagement metrics to downplay market share
Is Web traffic important? Apple's management certainly thinks so: It has been a frequent talking point in recent conference calls.
In April, CFO Luca Maestri explicitly noted that the iPad had usage numbers that were "off the chart," with four times the Web traffic of all tablets running Google's Android combined. Likewise, former CFO Peter Oppenheimer noted in January that the iPhone then accounted for 54% of North American smartphone Web traffic, and that the iPad was responsible for 78% of tablet traffic. Apple CEO Tim Cook almost mocked Android tablets in a conference call last year.
"iPad accounts for 85% of the Web traffic from tablets which is absolutely incredible," Cook said. "If there are lots of other tablets selling I don't what they are being used for because that's a pretty ... basic function is [the] Web browser."
Developers could follow engaged users
Android finally overtaking iOS in terms of overall Web traffic won't affect Apple's ability to sell its products, particularly in the near term. Yet the trend toward more engaged Android users is disturbing in the sense that it could encourage developers to prefer Google's mobile ecosystem.
Despite its relatively minuscule global market share, Apple has benefited from developers favoring its platform. Many popular mobile apps have started off as, or remain, exclusive to Apple's iOS, including Hearthstone, Instragram, and Tinder. Developers, looking to better monetize their apps or grow their user base, turn to Apple's platform first, as it offers more engaged users.
If Android's share of Web traffic continues to increase, and other usage statistics follow suit, that trend could reverse, and developers could finally come to favor Google's platform. There's no guarantee that will happen, but taking a progressively larger share of mobile Web traffic is a major step in the right direction.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.