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Why Apple's bullish on iPhone: More Android users switching over

Like Apple CEO Tim Cook, analysts are noticing more Android smartphone users switching to the iPhone, which they think has a lot to do with screen size.

Though it remains the top dog in the smartphone market, Android is losing more users to Apple.

Josh Long/CNET

Raise your hand if you're a former Android user who now owns an iPhone instead.

Those virtual hand-raisers are in good company, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who on Tuesday said 30 percent of all the iPhone buyers in the last fiscal quarter moved from an Android phone. That helped boost sales and earnings beyond expectations and marked the highest rate of Android-to-iPhone switching since Apple started measuring the data three years ago.

Android still trounces the iPhone in its slice of smartphones around the world, and Samsung continues to outpace Apple in shipments and market share. But analysts have noticed more Android users turning to the iPhone since the release of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 2014. Those iPhones took away one of the key advantages of Android smartphones: a larger screen.

Android switching is one of the main reasons Apple is still projecting iPhone revenue and unit sales to rise in the December quarter. The big-screen iPhones have become Apple's best-selling products of all time and helped Apple report the highest quarterly profit of any public company -- ever -- three quarters ago. There was some earlier concern that Apple may not be able to top that act.

Carolina Milanesi, lead researcher for Kantar Worldpanel Comtech, said the Android-to-iPhone trend has been particularly noticeable overseas.

"In China, the larger screen has certainly been a huge driver, and in the September quarter we have seen 56 percent of the iPhone buyers coming from Android," she said.

The Android world is also becoming more polarized around Samsung, with less brand choice than in the past, Milanesi added.

However, Samsung's shrinking market share and sales have taken its toll on the Korean smartphone maker, said Warwick Business School's Aleksi Aaltonen.

"Apple has strategically matched the features of flagship Android products such as screen size while steadily building its own ecosystem and product portfolio," he said. "For a person looking for a high-end smartphone, iPhone and Apple ecosystem is by far the safest option at the moment."

Google's Android also suffers from what's known as fragmentation. Both phone makers and wireless carriers can tweak the software to suit their proprietary needs, and not everyone gets the latest updates from Google at the same time. That makes for a somewhat inconsistent feel from one Android device to another.

Apple itself has been trying to convince Android owners to jump ship. In June, the company launched an Android app called "Move to iOS," which helps Android users migrate their data from devices using Google's mobile software to an Apple system. It also has a webpage devoted to Android users who want to make that switch. In March, Apple expanded its device trade-in program to accept certain models of rival phones, including Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone handsets.

"It is clear that Apple is after potential Android switchers," Aaltonen said. "The trend may continue unless Android manufacturers come up with good reasons to stay with the Android ecosystem, which may be difficult given its fragmented nature."