20/01/2015 07:24 GMT | Updated 21/03/2015 05:59 GMT

The Battle for Mobile: Why Android is Soaring Ahead

Within the world of mobile, many still see Apple as the leading name; the iPhone remains a synonym for "cool" and new apps are typically developed for its operating system before any other (with some never appearing in Android-compatible form at all).

Look at the numbers, though, and this enduring Apple-first mindset becomes a bit questionable. At a global level, Android is now in a truly dominant - and almost unchallengeable - position; while a mighty 69% of mobile users have the Android operating system, just a fifth are running Apple's iOS for iPhone.

That Android is in first position is not a new development; it's enjoyed a lead over iOS in each of GWI's research waves from 2011 onwards. What has changed is the size of the gap separating the two. Three years ago, the ratio of Android to iOS users was just under 2:1; in 2014, it has increased significantly to stand at more than 3.5:1. Yes, iPhones still generate a huge amount of revenue for Apple and, yes, they are still much more attractive in terms of app development. But no matter how profitable and cool iPhones and the Apple brand might be, there's no disguising that the company has lost considerable ground in the early to mid 10s.

Android has been helped by its more affordable price-point and its availability on a much wider range of models. But there's more to it than this. Analyzing usage levels on a country-by-country basis reveals another key difference: Android consistently posts its best figures in fast-growth markets. Here, there are typically 4 to 8 times as many people using Android as there are iOS - with even higher ratios in places like Argentina and Poland.

In short, Apple has failed to demonstrate its appeal in the majority of emerging markets. But these countries are hugely important for any mobile brand: their online populations are growing at rapid year-on-year rates, with mobiles representing a particularly important internet gateway. A lack of engagement now is an obvious issue, but it's one which will get more and more serious in future years: if Apple can't begin winning users in these markets, the gap separating it from Android at a global level will only get bigger. It's also pretty telling that Android is ahead of iOS in every single market surveyed GlobalWebIndex; while Android is used by more than 50% of the mobile audience in 30 of GWI's 32 countries, iOS hits the 40% mark in just two nations.

There are some positives for Apple, though. It enjoys its best engagement rates in a number of key, mature markets such as Australia, Canada, the US and Japan - a trend which, incidentally, helps to explain the buzz that Apple always generates: we tend to hear far more about digital behaviors in these markets (which are seen by many as a bellwether for what's happening at a global level).

One of its other strengths emerges when we look at the demographics of mobile users. Compared to Android, it can claim that its users have a wealthier profile (usage of iOS increases in line with income, whereas the equivalent Android figures fall slightly).

This, then, is the key tension for marketers to contend with in 2015 and beyond: does Apple's stronger performance among higher income consumers and in the markets usually considered to be the most "important" outweigh Android's soaring popularity at a global level?