Inside Apple’s Coup Attempt on Google


Aug. 11 2017, Updated 2:53 p.m. ET

Virgin Mobile USA joins Apple’s carrier network

Apple (AAPL) recently broke a noteworthy silence after nearly four years, and the move it’s making now appears to have Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google in the crosshairs.

Last month, Apple added Virgin Mobile USA to the list of its US (SPY) carrier partners. The last time the company recruited a carrier partner was in 2013. Virgin now joins AT&T (T), Verizon Communications (VZ), Sprint (S), and T-Mobile (TMUS) as Apple’s network operator partner. Notably, Virgin is a subsidiary of Sprint.

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As part of the deal, Virgin and Apple are throwing a one-year party in the form of steep discounts for their customers. Any customer who purchases a new or refurbished iPhone from either Apple or Virgin gets the opportunity to enjoy services on Virgin’s network for only $1 for a year. After that introductory offer, customers will normally pay $50 a month for Virgin’s network service.

An iPhone-only carrier

But the relationship between Apple and Virgin comes with potential pain for Google. The deal is part of a broader plan that will see Virgin drop support for Android phones on its network and instead become an iPhone-only carrier.

Google’s Android dominates the mobile OS (operating system) market in the US and elsewhere in the world. But it has continued to face growing competitive pressure from Apple’s iOS, as its US market share has been sliding in recent quarters.

Accelerating Android’s decline

As shown in the chart above, Android’s share of US smartphone sales fell to 59.2% in 1Q17 from 63.4% one year earlier, according to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. By contrast, the market share of iOS rose to 38.9% in 1Q17, up from 33.7%.

The deal that Apple has inked with Virgin could accelerate Android’s market share decline in the US.

Correction: This article originally claimed that Virgin offered refurbished iPhone owners access to its network for $1 per month for a year, rather than $1 for a full year.


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