iPhone vs. Android a tight race but iPad puts iOS 'way ahead' in mobile OS war

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Apple CEO Tim Cook outlined his thoughts on the company's iOS device performance during Q1 2012 and sees iPhone sales momentum closing the gap with rival handsets running Google's Android platform, while iPad and iPod touch are in a league of their own.

During Apple's Q1 2012 earnings conference call on Tuesday, Cook made it clear that he believes iOS is a key component to the company's future, saying that the success of the iPhone 4S and iPad is indicative of a slow move away from the desktop PC.

When asked if iOS versus Android was becoming a two-horse race similar to the Mac and Windows rivalry, Cook explained that the mobile device market is much more nuanced and is a very important facet to Apple's sustainability.

"The Mac has outgrown the market for over 20 quarters in a row, but still has a single digit percentage of the worldwide market," Cook said. "iOS, you look at phones, tablets, the iPod touch, we've sold over 350 million iOS devices. Over 62 million of those were done in the last quarter alone."

In looking at recent data from analytics firms, the iPhone has been showing steady growth when compared to Android handsets. Despite a shortage of supply, Apple managed to move 37 million iPhones last quarter.

For the Oct./Nov. period in the U.S., which accounts for only a portion of iPhone 4S sales, NPD saw Apple's smartphone holding a 43% market share while Android had 47%. A following report from Nielsen, which adds in month of Decemberm shows iPhone market share slowly increasing to 45% while Android holds steady at 47%.

"It seems like all of the data that I've seen in the U.S. would say that it's a very close race in iPhone [and Android]," Cook notes. "I wouldn't say it's a two-horse race, there's a horse in Redmond that always suits up and always runs and will keep running, and there's other players that we can never count out."

Cook said that Apple will somewhat ignore how many "horses" there are in the crowded mobile marketplace and focus on innovating to "make sure [it's] the lead one."

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the iPhone 4S launch event in October | Source: Reuters

In looking to the future of iOS products, Cook commented that tablets like the iPad will one day surpass the PC market, and sees Apple's offering as being peerless among a litany of models running on Android, Windows and other platforms.

Citing recent IDC data that shows desktop sales in the U.S. were trumped by tablet sales during the last quarter of 2011, Cook claims that there are different indicators for significant momentum in the space.

"We're really happy with the 15.4 million iPads that we were able to sell," Cook said. "This is consistent with our long-term belief that we've had since before we introduced the product that this is a huge opportunity for Apple over time."

The Apple chief doesn't see other tablets like Amazon's Kindle Fire or similar Android models as threats to the iPad's crown. Cook notes that consumers want to use their tablets in a variety of ways and the "limited function" tablets and e-readers simply don't have Apple's robust ecosystem of over 170,000 iPad-optimized apps.

"I think on the iPad side, although I don't have specific numbers to share from third parties, I think that all of us inherently believe that iPad is way ahead there," Cook said, adding that "there's really no comparable product to iPod touch out there, so iOS is doing extremely well. What we focus on is innovating and making the world's best product."

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