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In The Apple/Android Race, The Numbers Are Closing—Except One

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How lopsided is the Apple/Android divide when it comes to mobile commerce? Flash-sale e-tailer Beyond the Rack reported that in May it had $4.3 million in sales through iOS devices—and $400,000 through Android devices, according to Internet Retailer.

That difference may be a little more extreme than the gap for other retailers, but Beyond the Rack's other numbers aren't: Revenue per visit was only 88 cents for customers with Android devices, while iPhones rang in at 98 cents per visit and iPads hit $1.92. Not surprisingly, Beyond the Rack has made iOS its priority for app development.

That iOS edge—more customers who each spend more—has been Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) advantage as its phone and tablet sales have lost the lead in absolute numbers. Apple's lead in the total number of apps downloaded seems to be slipping away, too. About 2 billion iOS apps are downloaded each month, compared with 2.5 billion for Android, and if that pace holds Android will catch up before the end of 2013.

And those numbers are beginning to pull developers to build apps first for Android. "For now, iOS users tend to monetize much better than Android users, more than making up for the smaller user base," venture capitalist Chris Dixon wrote in a blog post on Saturday, June 1. "The switch to Android first hasn't happened yet, but at least based on conversations I've had with entrepreneurs, it seems likely to happen in the next year or two."

If it happens, that will leave just one horse race between the two platforms that mobile retailers care about: whose customers buy more. Raw numbers, app numbers and even developer loyalty are just proxies for whether a mobile device's users actually buy merchandise.

There's reason to believe that big gap between how much Apple users spend and what Android users buy will remain. After all, Apple users typically spent more for their devices. But then, that's just a proxy too.

So forget proxies. Trust the numbers with dollar signs in front of them to indicate when it's time to shift e-commerce (and app development) strategy. For now, for most mobile retailers, Apple still has a long lead where it matters.

For more:
- See this Internet Retailer story
- See this Chris Dixon blog post

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