December 18, 2009, 11:35 AM — One of the persistent and oft-undiscussed (except by me, apparently) angles of the whole iPhone-on-Verizon debate is that current iPhone models won't run on Verizon's network, because they're built for the GSM network standard, not CDMA. That decision in turn was made because GSM dominates the market worldwide; Apple's designed the phone so that it can make a single handset model that works in every country on Earth. The implication of that decision to reject the largest and (by some measures) most beloved carrier in the U.S. is that Apple has its eyes on the world market, not just on customers in the country where Apple happens to be based. Which gives rise to the question: How's that working out?
Well, according to some data from AdMob, not as well as you might think! The mobile advertising company (and Google subsidiary) has U.S. iPhone (and iPod) users accounting for almost exactly half of the visits to its ad network. From a U.S. point of view, that sounds impressive -- but when you recognize that that the U.S. population makes for much less than half of the global smartphone userbase, the iPhone comes across as an international mobile underperformer.
Except that AdMob isn't actually magically measuring worldwide device traffic; it's measuring worldwide access to its network. AdMob is a (now Google owned) U.S.-based company; most of its customers are, I'm betting, publishers of English-language sites or apps. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those customers, for the mobile version of one of my own Web sites.) The numbers will be skewed based on AdMob's distribution around the world, and since AdMob builds ads right into apps, they'll also be skewed based on which countries have App Stores, and how they make use of them. Thus, the stories of growth in, say, the Japanese market that are being read into these numbers may represent the growth of AdMob rather than the growth of iPhone use.
For a somewhat more grounded set of numbers from at least one overseas market, there's this batch from a Tokyo research company that shows the iPhone doing quite well in Japan (remember, there was some question about this). Still, the numbers aren't entirely parseable to me -- for instance, it's claimed that the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS together make up 46 percent of the "consumer smartphone market". But does that mean the whole installed base of smartphones, or just the sales for this year? And what, among the many wizardly phones available in Japan, counts as a "smartphone"?