September 27, 2011, 4:44 PM

Smartphone adoption soars to 43%

Android has grown, the iPhone is stable and BlackBerry continues to sink.

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As of August 2011, 43% of all wireless subscribers own a smartphone, rocketing up from 27% just the previous August, reports market research firm The Nielsen Co. What’s more, 58% of wireless subscribers who purchased a new phone this summer went with a smartphone. The preferences of these so-called “recent acquirers” are important as they are often a leading indicator of where the market is going, says Don Kellogg, director of telecom research and insights at Nielsen.

“The holiday season and the launch of new devices like the next iPhone could further accelerate smartphone adoption, though this is always tempered by the fact that many consumers are unwilling or unable to break their service contracts before they expire,” Kellogg writes in a Nielsen blog post. “In any event, the growing popularity of app- and media-friendly smartphones spells tremendous opportunity for those advertisers, publishers and developers eager to leverage mobile media.”

And it spells tremendous opportunity for retailers that cater to mobile shoppers as smartphone owners shift more of their web browsing from the PCs on their desktops to the mobile devices in their hands, expecting mobile-optimized sites wherever they go, mobile experts say. And that transference of web behavior includes online shopping. M-commerce sales of companies in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300 will grow 105% from $2.62 billion in 2010 to a projected $5.37 billion this year.

When it comes to what kind of smartphone a wireless subscriber carries, Android continues to rule the roost. 43% of smartphones in use are devices that run Google Inc.’s Android mobile operating system, Nielsen says. And 56% of consumers who purchased a smartphone between June and August bought an Android device.

The figures for Apple Inc.’s iPhone are 28% for both market share and the phone new buyers are choosing. “But those figures could change quickly in the months to come,” Kellogg says. “Every time Apple launches a new iPhone or makes it available on a new wireless carrier, there is an increase in their sales.” Apple will introduce the highly anticipated iPhone 5 Oct. 4.

BlackBerry continues to fare poorly. The company once owned the smartphone market with well over half of all smartphones in use. But the iPhone and then Android devices tore BlackBerry’s lead apart. Today BlackBerry smartphones account for only 18% of all smartphones in use, Nielsen says. What’s worse, of consumers who purchased a smartphone between June and August, only 9% chose a BlackBerry, indicating its downward trend likely will continue.

Smartphone platform market share might indicate where retailers should invest when developing mobile apps. However, some experts say the numbers can be deceiving.

"The challenge for retail mobile apps is that while Android adoption overall is rising, it's not a monolithic operating system like it is for Apple's iOS," says Nikki Baird, a managing partner at Retail Systems Research. "Android seems to be going the way of Unix, where even though it's supposed to be open, groups and companies are putting their individual flavoring or spin on it, so it's getting harder and harder to 'write once, deploy everywhere.' As always, retailers and developers should look closely at how their specific group of customers are choosing to engage and match those preferences."

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