Saturday, September 4, 2010

Statement from Netapplications: Numbers may not be accurate

xkcd.com / CC BY-NC 2.5
I wrote an email regarding the ridiculous numbers about iOS vs. Android, and to my astonishment, I've got a response!

In the email, an employee says, that the numbers may not be accurate: "One thing I have noticed with my EVO is that they use a WebKit for a browser. WebKist, because of their customizations and distros are a bit difficult to track. My EVO reports itself as being a Safari browser."

That's right. I've mentioned this some time before. Every browser sends a User-Agent to tell the website what browser and system is visiting it.
The User-Agent of a G1 e.g. looks something like this:

"Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 1.6; en-us; T-Mobile G1 Build/DRC92 AppleWebKit/582.5+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.1.2 Mobile Safari/525.20.1"

You see there is AppleWebKit and Safari, like the employee said.
This means if the site or the analytic plugin does not look for the system itself, but for the browser, it might count an Android phone as a Safari, or other AppleWebKit based browser, like Chrome, which User-Agent looks very similar. Even when it's using the system information, it might take it as Linux. Because every system has to be detected with a match. So if a website owner don't care for Android, he might never know that someone with an Android uses his site, instead he thinks it's a Safari user.

This means the numbers are not really accurate, and this explains why some other statistic services showing Android either growing very fast while iOS drops fast, or even shows Android over iOS by now.

I can't understand why Google did this User-Agent. I use Dolphin, and I'm going to change the User-Agent and delete Linux, AppleWebKit and Safari out of it. That could result in some sites giving me the Mozilla-version, but overall it should not have much impact. At last, I won't get count as an iPhone.

So you see, Netapplications is not to blame for this. They did their job. It's just a problem of the websites and of the User-Agent itself.