The One Arena Apple Still Rules

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With iPhone sales seemingly hitting a plateau, many pundits have taken to bemoaning the Tim Cook era. But whatever one thinks about the future of Apple under Cook’s leadership, there is one area where Apple continues to hold an unquestionable lead: mobile video consumption.

In a recent survey, the Streaming Video Alliance found that 47.42 percent of iPhone owners were streaming video compared to 45.63 percent of Android device owners. This finding echoed older data from Adobe, which reported in 2015 that Apple devices accounted for the majority of online video viewing.

The viewing disparity discovered by the Streaming Video Alliance doesn’t seem remarkable on its face, until you consider the rather large gulf in mobile operating system market share. Android holds a wildly dominate position, controlling somewhere in the neighborhood of an 80-percentplus market share. By contrast, Apple holds a tiny 12-15 percent share. The same is true for the installed base, which is overwhelmingly Android-based. Yet the relatively tiny sliver of the market that owns an iOS device has an apparently insatiable appetite for video. What gives?

One possible explanation is the demographic profile of Apple’s customer base. They have a strong foothold among teens who are avid consumers of mobile apps. As the early smartphone powerhouse, Apple has had the benefit of acculturating its users to mobile video consumption, whereas later Android adopters may not be as passionate. Android is also a far more fragmented platform and many users, particularly in emerging market countries, may not have versions that support newer streaming video services.

Whatever the reason, Apple’s stranglehold on mobile views informs several strategic issues impacting the video market, particularly the ongoing effort to standardize streaming media formats around MPEG-DASH. Apple’s own adaptive bit-rate technology, HLS, is so widely entrenched and so widely used that it gives Apple outsized influence (indeed, a spoiler’s role) in the development of industry-standard alternatives. It may also explain Apple’s reluctance to offer its own TV. Given that mobile video viewing continues to thrive on iOS and mature on Apple’s set-top-box, additional TV hardware may simply be redundant.

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