Smartphones running Google's Android OS have been outselling Apple's iPhone in the United States for some time. But while previous data showed Android beating iPhone month to month, Nielsen recently gathered data from the past quarter and concluded that Android now appears to be pulling ahead of its rivals for good. Is the more diverse and available Android winning the smartphone war, just as Windows-based PCs previously beat Apple in the computer market?
It may be too early to say. But some of the trends that Nielsen highlights are interesting.
For example, Android is winning in the most crucial demographics, with more users between the ages of 18 and 35 choosing Google over Apple. Only users in the oldest demographic—those over 55—are clearly choosing the iPhone over Android, an uncomfortable fact that should give pause to any wannabe hipster sporting white earbuds and a too-easily-cracked glass iPhone. Head's up, iPhone zombies: That phone isn't just as fragile as your ego, it's yesterday's news.
But fear not, Apple fans! Despite declining share, the iPhone is still very much in the running from a unit-sales perspective and is tied for number two with Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry. And the iPhone 4—its multiple hardware defects openly ignored by its all-too-accepting users—is the number-one handset overall in the US smartphone market.
The trouble is, it seems as if a new Android phone is released every week. And each time a new device appears, it's heralded as the next New Best Thing There Is. Which it is, until next week, when the next phone is released. If anything, the Android hardware market is even more diverse than the market for Windows-based PCs. And it's getting worse all the time, with multiple OS versions creating a frightening fragmentation problem that could leave many users stranded with non-updatable phones.
As for the other players in the smartphone wars, there's little in the way of good news. The BlackBerry is neck-and-neck with iPhone for the number-two spot, but it's declining. And the rest of the market is an explosion of wannabes and would-have-beens such as Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Windows Phone, HP's webOS, and even the dying Palm OS.
Of course, things can change. After Apple's rapid rise from zero to hero with the iPhone, analysts proclaimed that its dominance was inevitable, historic. But then Android hit and rose to the top spot even more quickly, causing a lot of backtracking and history-rewriting, where analysts would retroactively proclaim that "of course" Android would be more successful because of the multiple vendor support. Yes, it really was obvious. After the fact.
So it's possible that a combined Microsoft and Nokia effort can ride Windows Phone to great success, sure. And yes, HP could resurrect webOS into something that's both interesting and popular. And we shouldn't count out RIM, which has a dedicated user base and a solid product lineup. All these companies certainly have a chance, with an ever-growing market and evolving consumer needs.
Today, however, Android sits alone at the top of the smartphone heap. And though the Android market may be a mess—and it really is a mess—it's a successful mess.