August 12, 2010, 5:07 PM

Android sales soar, but how many are in use?

Gartner says Android is No. 1 in sales.

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Sales of smartphones using the Android operating system skyrocketed in the second quarter of 2010, grabbing 34.1% of market share, up from 3.9% in Q2 2009. Sales of phones using the operating systems of Android’s main rivals in mobile operating systems, BlackBerry and Apple, dropped. BlackBerry went from 52.5% in Q2 2009 to 33.3% in Q2 2010, and Apple decreased from 25.4% to 22.2%.

Those numbers obscure some important points, however. First, Apple sold millions of its new iPhone 4 in the beginning of the third quarter. Second, the Gartner report does not reflect the number of smartphones actively in use, otherwise known as the installed base.

The Gartner numbers reflect sales of smartphones from the manufacturer to organizations, for example, retailers or large companies. So, BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion may sell 1 million BlackBerrys to Best Buy, but Best Buy may have sold only 500,000 to consumers, explains Roger Entner, senior vice president and head of research for the telecommunications practice at The Nielsen Co. Or an enterprise like American Express, he adds, may buy 50,000 Droids for employees and stockpile 20,000 for future use.

Gartner does not measure how many smartphones are in use. Nielsen does, by surveying a panel of 75,000 consumers every quarter, asking which smartphone they own. On August 4, Nielsen reported that, of the big three, BlackBerry’s share dropped to 35% in Q2 2010 from 37% in Q2 2009, Apple’s jumped to 28% from 21%, and Android’s shot up to 13% from 2%.

In both reports, Android phones are soaring. And the flood of Android phones into the market according to Gartner’s sales numbers means Android will gain a greater share of the installed base of users in the quarters ahead, says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president, mobile devices, at Gartner.

“Launches of updated operating systems will help maintain strong growth in smartphones in the second half of 2010 and spur innovation,” Milanesi says. “But we believe market share in the operating system space will consolidate around a few key operating system providers that have the most support from communication service providers and developers, and strong brand awareness with consumers and enterprise customers.”

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