Android closes in on iOS as U.S. smartphone market booms

Jason Ankeny

With 2010 drawing to a close, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android mobile operating system looks like it's just getting started. As of October 2010 Android represents 23.5 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, according to new data issued by research firm comScore--that's up from 17 percent in July 2010, and vaults Android within striking distance of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rival iOS at 24.6 percent. Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry plunged from 39.3 percent in July to 35.8 percent in October, comScore notes--Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Mobile dropped from 11.8 percent to 9.7 percent, and Palm slipped from 4.9 percent to 3.9 percent. Close to 61 million U.S. subscribers now own smartphones, comScore adds, up 14 percent over the preceding three-month period and representing one out of every four American subscribers in all.

Android's explosive growth isn't limited to the U.S. market: The operating system now powers 25.5 percent of all smartphones worldwide, narrowing the gap on global market share leader Symbian (36.6 percent) per data issued in early November by research firm Gartner. Unit sales of Android devices exceeded 20 million in the third quarter of 2010--just one year ago, Android accounted for just 3.5 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, with unit sales of only 1.4 million. Gartner estimates that Android phones made up between 75 percent and 80 percent of all Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) smartphone sales in Q3--in addition to higher-end devices, manufacturers also are producing Android handsets targeting a host of different consumer segments, with ZTE introducing a sub-£100/$160 Android phone for Orange UK's prepaid customers.

Looking ahead at 2011, Android is on pace to take command as Europe's top smartphone platform, surpassing Symbian as well as iOS, according to research firm IDC. Android devices represented 23 percent of Western Europe shipments in Q3, behind Symbian and Apple in the region, but IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo tells Bloomberg that Android will surge past its rivals over the course of the year to come. "The iPhone was last year's hot device and now people are looking for something different," Jeronimo said. HTC currently leads the Western European Android market, accounting for 39 percent of shipments over the first nine months of 2010--Sony Ericsson follows at 27 percent, with Samsung at 14 percent and growing on the strength of its popular Galaxy S smartphone.

But not everyone is sold on Android. Among U.S. subscribers likely to upgrade their current mobile handset, 30.9 percent of female respondents are planning to purchase an iPhone, compared to 22.8 percent who want Android, The Nielsen Company reports; on the other hand, 32.6 percent of male respondents plan to go Android, compared to iOS at 28.6 percent. Nielsen adds that iOS is also the smartphone platform of choice among younger subscribers, with 35.9 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 desiring the iPhone, compared to 32.0 percent favoring Android; the difference narrows among users 25 to 34, with 31.9 percent citing iOS and 29.8 percent targeting Android. Among respondents ages 35 to 54, Android is favored by 27.4 percent, with iOS at 26.3 percent. Taking into account all U.S. consumers planning to upgrade, iOS is the likely destination for 35 percent of respondents, with Android at 28 percent and BlackBerry at 15 percent--however, among feature phone owners looking to upgrade, Android is targeted by 28 percent, edging past iOS at 25 percent and well ahead of BlackBerry at 11 percent. iPhone may always remain the hipper, more stylish smartphone, but if Android is where the feature phone masses migrate in the months ahead, the smart money says it won't trail iOS's U.S market share for too much longer. -Jason