Youth movement sparks the Android user explosion

How hot is Android? Chew on this: The number of Android-powered smartphones sold in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2010 very nearly equaled iOS and BlackBerry sales combined. Android accounted for 44 percent of U.S. smartphone purchases in Q3--up 11 percentage points over the second quarter--according to new data issued by market research firm NPD Group; Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS held relatively steady, rising one percentage point quarter-over-quarter to 23 percent of U.S. smartphone sales, while Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry plunged to 22 percent, down from 28 percent in Q2. NPD Group adds that when OS unit share for Q3 2010 is compared to the third quarter of 2009, BlackBerry share plummeted by 53 percent, while iOS share declined 21 percent. "The HTC EVO 4G, Motorola Droid X and other new high-end Android devices have been gaining momentum at carriers that traditionally have been strong RIM distributors, and the recent introduction of the BlackBerry Torch has done little to stem the tide," said NPD Group executive director of industry analysis Ross Rubin in a prepared statement.

So just who are all these Android smartphone users? They're young--50 percent of Android owners in the U.S. are under the age of 35, The Nielsen Company reports. Twenty one percent of Android users fall between the ages of 35 and 44, with 16 percent between 45 and 54; with 43 percent of iOS users between 18 and 34 years old and 24 percent between 35 and 44, Apple boasts the most total smartphone users under 44, while RIM leads among users north of 45 (38 percent of all BlackBerry owners). Taken as a whole, American smartphone owners are more diverse than the feature phone counterparts, Nielsen adds: Hispanics represent one in five U.S. smartphone users, but account for just 9 percent of feature phone owners. Conversely, whites make up 62 percent of smartphone users but represent 76 percent of feature phone owners.

All told, 28 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers now wield smartphones, Nielsen reports--among all subscribers who acquired a new mobile handset over the last six months, 41 percent opted for a smartphone in lieu of a feature phone, up from 35 percent in Q2. BlackBerry remains the dominant U.S. smartphone operating system at 30 percent market share, but its lead continues to erode--iOS is now within striking distance at 28 percent overall, with Android at 19 percent and making up ground fast. Microsoft's Windows Mobile remains essentially unchanged at 15 percent market share, and Palm's webOS and Symbian are barely in the conversation, accounting for about 5 percent of the U.S. smartphone market combined. With the all-important holiday shopping season inching closer, expect the smartphone market to remain in serious flux--especially if there's a Verizon Wireless iPhone under the tree. -Jason