Mobile Engagement Showdown: Samsung vs Apple

Read Time: 5 min

Look at your mobile phone and at the phones in the hands of those around you. Not too long ago you would have seen a never-ending array of flip phones, smartphones with keyboards, slide outs, and those unbreakable Nokia bricks.

Today, it’s a different scene – it’s all boiled down to two players: Apple and Samsung. These two brands have beat out all others and now dominate today’s smartphone market – and understandably so. Their devices are incredibly user friendly and customers have pulled out their wallets accordingly.

Winning the Mobile Wars

According to mobile expert Ewan Spence, “Of the 292 million smartphones shipped in Q1 2016, Samsung accounted for 27.8 percent, almost double Apple’s 14.4 percent share.” While Apple has got an impressive hold on the market, as Ewan states, nearly doubling the sales of your rival is no small feat. A big part of Samsung’s jump ahead was the release of the popular Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge, two devices fans were waiting on with bated breath. While this bump for Samsung is impressive, the war wages on with Apple putting its bets on the iPhone 7 to help close that gap later this year.

While the device makers battle it out, you might think that for app developers, brand strategists and mobile marketers that it’s all the same, no matter which manufacturer is winning. As long as someone has a smartphone with the capability to download and use your app, everything’s good, right? Wrong. There’s actually a huge difference between the way users engage with iPhones and Samsung devices that affects app marketers and brands alike.

Engagement – So What?

When it comes to engagement, Samsung takes first place.

Our research shows that users spend a whopping 22 percent more time in apps on Samsung devices than they do on Apple devices, with an average of 84 minutes per app per month for Samsung users, compared to 69 minutes clocked in per month for Apple users. Time in app is a function of both frequency (as measured by the average number of app launches per month) and length (as measured by the average session length per month).

Samsung users also launch apps 10 percent more than iPhone users, and their average session length is 11 percent longer than iPhone users. That’s a significant data point and one that can mark the difference between an app that is successful and profitable and one that crashes and burns. Because, today, engagement is the golden metric of success.

It used to be that the almighty download was king. Success was measured by how many thousands (or millions) of people downloaded your app. The thinking was that if you could get that initial download, then your app would be well-positioned to be successful for life. However, times have changed. Today, one in four apps is only used once, and Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store are now a graveyard for apps that were once downloaded and never used again.

It’s for this reason that I’ve been sounding the alarm about what I’m calling the “mobile engagement crisis” – a call to arms for mobile marketers and app developers that are seeing slipping engagement rates and abandoned apps, despite massive growth in the mobile space. There are a lot of new tools at our disposal– in-app messages, push notifications, and the granular data to back it all up – yet as marketers we’re failing to use them intelligently to engage with our users.

Screen Size and Engagement

To play catch up on the engagement game, Apple has been tweaking the size and shape of their phones to figure out what consumers actually want.


However, when it comes to smaller screens, Samsung users still engage more than Apple users. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini has an average time in app of 65 minutes versus the average of 4-inch Apple devices at 49 minutes. With these stats in mind, you can bet that Apple may think twice about how many smaller-screened devices it releases in the coming years.

It Isn’t All About the Hardware

Engagement really comes down to the user experience, especially with apps. It’s a simple idea: if a user enjoys using an app, he or she will launch it more and spend more time with it.

For a user, the experience choice is most influenced by the underlying operating system. Our data shows that overall, Android phone users spend 31% more time in app on their devices than iOS users, largely because the average number of app launches per month is 17% more for Android users.

Treading into the Android vs. iOS waters is a dangerous game - opinions are rife on which is better. The jury is still out on the ultimate winner, however, if our data is any indication, Android has made significant strides in the engagement race.

An in-depth review from Know Your Mobile could provide us with the answer. The author writes, “Android [...] is more geared towards power-users and is infinitely more customisable -- you can change almost everything about it and customise to your exact specifications.”

This level of customization and power-user angle suggests that Android users are encouraged to go deeper with the personalization of their app-consumption habits, leading them to be more engaged and coming back more frequently.

Where To Go From Here

While engagement differs dramatically based on whether you’re looking at devices or operating systems, in reality, there’s not much a brand or marketer can do to sway the decisions of the tech giants.

However, what they can learn from this is that engagement isn’t a set statistic. It differs based on the phone, operating system and app you’re using. Just like the tech giants have to do, companies need to listen to consumer demand. Smart marketers will come to understand that we’re at a tipping point where we have the potential to usher in a new era of brand loyalty to drive these engagement rates back up, but it’s up to them to make that happen.

For Apple and Samsung, the implications are larger. While the iPhone 7 will likely help propel sales to new heights, the engagement challenges outlined in our research must be addressed. To succeed, Apple should shift its focus to the OS  to help create a user experience that is as engaging as Android’s. The challenge is that this must be done while simultaneously maintaining its marquee philosophy of simplicity.

Apple could do this by giving developers more standard “services” they can leverage (like they did with Handoff last year). Other ideas include creating visual push messages, allowing multiple asks for location permissions before disabling them and expanding their app extensions to let apps invoke other apps in more standard ways.  From Samsung’s perspective, they must look into unique features that take better advantage of Android to keep engagement high, and remain the number one Android manufacturer. For instance, they could leverage their leadership in virtual reality to make the Android announcements at Google I/O more accessible to the mainstream.

For both, it all comes down to making innovations in the OS that allow developers to build amazing, engaging apps.

Regardless of what happens, these tech giants will continue to battle it out - however, it still remains to be seen who will win.