May 27, 2010, 2:52 PM

Android zooms past the iPhone in the mobile OS race

Mobile industry observers knew the Android operating system would be a major contender, but many did not expect it to come on so strong so fast.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Mobile industry observers knew the Android operating system would be a major contender, but many did not expect it to come on so strong so fast.

Google Inc.’s Android shook up the U.S. mobile phone market in the first quarter of 2010, moving past Apple Inc.’s iPhone OS to take the No. 2 position among smartphone operating systems, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Based on smartphone sales last quarter, the Android operating system moved into second position at 28% of market share behind Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS at 36% and ahead of Apple’s iPhone OS at 21%.

“As in the past, carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role in determining smartphone market share,” says Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at NPD. “In order to compete with the iPhone, Verizon Wireless has expanded its buy-one-get-one offer beyond Research in Motion devices to now include all of their smartphones.”

This is big news for retailers in mobile commerce—or considering m-commerce—because the overwhelming majority of retailers offering apps have created shopping applications for the iPhone and not for any other smartphone operating system. Most retailers have bypassed the BlackBerry because BlackBerry owners tend to use their devices primarily for business purposes. iPhone owners, on the other hand, are heavy users of apps and the mobile web and are thus primed for m-commerce, mobile experts say.

Users of Android-based phones, which several manufacturers produce in contrast to the iPhone that’s made only by Apple, are more like iPhone users, experts say. They buy the devices for personal, not business, use, and focus on apps and the mobile web. This means retailers in m-commerce should give serious consideration to which smartphone operating system or systems they design shopping apps for.

At the same time, however, m-commerce site and app builder Netbiscuits reports in a new study that more than 57% of all U.S. mobile web page requests stem from Apple Inc.’s iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch. So while sales of smartphones with the Android operating system may have topped the iPhone for the first time, mobile web traffic in the U.S. is dominated by the iPhone. This may change, though, as more Android-based devices get into consumers’ hands.

The NPD Group compiles and analyzes mobile device sales data based on more than 150,000 completed online consumer research surveys each month. Surveys are based on a nationally balanced and demographically representative sample, and results are projected to represent the entire population of U.S. consumers. Netbiscuits bases its figures on traffic to its numerous sites; it says it delivers more than 2.5 billion mobile page impressions globally every month.

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