Android Devices Pull Ahead in U.S. Smartphone Race
A new Nielsen survey of postpaid mobile subscribers released Thursday suggests that Google's Android platform may be pulling ahead of Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS in the U.S. smartphone race. Google held a 29 percent share of the mobile platform market in the three months through January, followed by Apple and RIM, which were tied at 27 percent. Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform trailed at 10 percent.
However, Android sales during the period were fractured among multiple vendors, including HTC, Motorola and Samsung as well as a growing list of new entrants. From the smartphone vendor perspective, Apple and RIM were tied for first place at 27 percent, followed by HTC at 19 percent (12 percent Android, seven percent WP7), Motorola at 11 percent (10 percent Android, one percent WP7) and Samsung at seven percent (five percent Android, two percent WP7).
Despite buy-one-get-one promotions at both AT&T and T-Mobile, NPD analysts noted that WP7 handsets entered the market with a lower share than either Android or webOS at their debuts. Still, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 strategy should be viewed as a "long-term play which is still in the ecosystem-building phase," noted Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC.
Off To a Good Start
Microsoft has made the case for WP7's differentiation and improved integration, noted Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD. "Now the company must close the feature gap, offer more exclusive capabilities, work with partners to deliver hardware with better differentiation, and leverage its extensive experience in driving developer communities to increase its app offerings," Ross said.
Hilwa thinks WP7 is off to a good start with Microsoft's app store being one of the most successful both in number buildup and the quality of the portfolio at this stage of the game. "Most importantly, the full weight of the ecosystem will probably not come to bear on this until Windows PCs themselves are brought into alignment with this when Windows for ARM ships, and some viable Microsoft-based tablets are in the market," Hilwa explained.
He also observed that the WP7 ecosystem scored a big win by bringing Nokia's manufacturing prowess into the fold. "But work is still ongoing in terms of bringing a new level of hardware to the platform, software updates to support other kinds of apps, upgrading the browser to an HTML5-capable one, and actually shipping Nokia phones, potentially by end of year," Hilwa added.
A Youthful Appeal
According to Nielsen's survey, Google's Android platform was a tad more popular among younger U.S. consumers aged 18-34, beating Apple by two percentage points and RIM by three percentage points. By contrast, RIM excelled by one percentage point over Android and Apple in the 45-54 age demographic, whereas Apple's popularity was actually one percentage point higher than rivals in the 65 and above demographic.
Though Google's Android platform is proving popular in the U.S. only some vendors have been able to fully leverage its appeal. For example, Samsung grew its global smartphone market share by a whopping 438.9 percent year over year in the fourth quarter, according to IDC, but the Korea-based vendor continues to trail far behind HTC and Motorola in the U.S. smartphone market.
Moreover, the competition is heating up with newcomers Dell, Huawei, Kyocera and Sanyo all launching their first U.S. smartphones at the end of last year. Though Gartner is forecasting that U.S. smartphone sales will grow from 67 million units in 2010 to 95 million in 2011, the firm's analysts believe the market's center of focus will be shifting to less-tech-savvy consumers.
"With operators offering generous return policies on all mobile phones, it is important that handset producers offer devices that will appeal to the less technologically advanced consumer," said Hugues de la Vergne, a principal research analyst at Gartner.