Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, May 30, 2019
Finger foibles? Muscle memory? Most of us have done it – found our fingers fumbling for a key that isn’t on this keyboard, tapping a screen that’s not touch-sensitive, or expecting some function that’s not available on the device we’re using. Juggling devices across multiple operating system ecosystems can reveal our learned shortcuts and ingrained habits. And, a multi-OS experience affects most of us. More than two-thirds (69%) of online adults use two or more of the major operating systems – Windows, Android, iOS, or MacOS. Put another way, less than a third of online Americans use only one OS.
Who are these focused users who have chosen to stay within a single OS ecosystem, and how numerous are they? And, who are the flexible cross-platform savants who find a way to manage moving betwixt and between their collection of devices and ecosystems?
Who has the fanboys?
Microsoft Windows can rightly claim that they have the largest active base of dedicated fans. Over half (53%) of American adults who use a single OS are using Windows. As dedicated as they are, this group is relatively small, made up of only one in six (17%) online American adults.
This is based on TUP/Technology User Profile 2018, conducted among 7,521 online adults.
Those only using Apple iOS are fewer in number. Among single-OS users, they number just over one-fourth (28%). This is less than one in ten American adults, at 9%.
Even smaller is the hardy band of Android-only users, at one-sixth (17%) of single-US users and 5% of American adults.
What do the the flexible use?
Among the 69% of online American adults that use multiple OS ecosystems, Microsoft Windows is the most prevalent, with over half (57%) of online adults, and 83% of those who use more than one OS. So, anyone hoping to reach a broader market needs to seriously include Windows in their target platforms.
Those using Apple iOS or Google Android and nearly anything else are nearly equal in number. Just over half (53%) of those using multiple platforms are using Google Android, and slightly under half (48%) are using Apple iOS devices.
Which OS has the highest fan concentration?
If it’s not enough to have the greatest number of dedicated fans, their concentration matters. Microsoft Windows has the highest share of its users that are solely focused on devices with the OS ecosystem. Almost one fourth (23%) of Windows users only use Windows devices. Apple’s iOS has nearly the same level of fandom. Twenty-one percent of iOS users only use iOS devices, whether iPhones or iPads. Android has the lowest level of concentration, with only 13% that only use Android devices.
Who are the fanboys and flexible?
At first glance, its notable that the single-OS users are older than multi-OS jugglers. The median age of a single-US user is 50 years and that of a multi-OS user is 41. This difference is supported by the dominance of Windows PC users and Android Smartphone/Tablet users – older than their multi-OS counterparts. The median age of Windows-only users is 55, a baker’s dozen more years older than the median age of 42 for those using Windows along with any other major OS.
Are platforms used differently?
The smartphone is the device of choice for nearly every type activity by multiple-OS users and single-OS users, with a few exceptions. Those who use Windows as their single OS primarily use a tower desktop for most of their activities. Also, those using multiple operating systems choose a tower desktop for their cloud storage/sharing activities.
Although there are cross-platform apps that span OS ecosystems, many of them behave differently from platform to platform. Even small differences stymie users who are looking for a smooth experience across their devices, and especially doesn’t help those with a strong finger memory. Developers face a perennial Procrustean dilemma – either uniquely optimizing for each platform or offering an identical, if somehow substandard, experience.
High cross-platform compatibility is the nearest thing to the elusive “killer app” or “silver bullet”. OS ecosystems will be helped mostly by apps that offer enough functionality to entice users, yet not quite enough compatibility to lose the ecosystem’s unique cachet.
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