Android the most popular mobile OS? Not quite

Android mobile operating system isn't really the most popular compared to BlackBerry and iPhone.

The Android army is celebrating the latest figures from Nielsen that show the Android mobile operating system is top dog. But Android fans might want to hold off on the balloon drop. Google's Android isn't really top of the heap just yet.

Nielsen's recent findings say 32 per cent of new smartphone owners between February and August favored Android over BlackBerry devices and the iPhone. Those are impressive numbers to be sure, but Android's popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be, and several factors could still derail - or at least slow down - Android's recent success.

Android Invasion Not Complete

New smartphone shoppers may be upgrading or adopting Android, but overall the Google smartphone platform is still well behind BlackBerry and iPhone. Nielsen's numbers show that Android accounts for 19 per cent of all U.S. smartphone users, while Research in Motion's Blackberry claims 31 per cent and Apple's iPhone is close behind with 28 per cent.

Of course, in both of Nielsen's smartphone charts it's hard to ignore that fast-rising line indicating Android's growing market share. Between January and August, Android went from eight per cent overall U.S. market share to 19 per cent, according to Nielsen. The iPhone, meanwhile, has basically stagnated hanging around 28-29 per cent. RIM's Blackberry has dropped off from a recent high of 37 per cent of U.S. smartphone users in January to 31 per cent in August.

Carriers and Loyalty

There is also an argument to be made about carrier availability. Android devices are available on all four major carriers, while the iPhone remains only on AT&T. Considering the high popularity of the iPhone since its launch in 2007, you could argue that most people who were going to buy an AT&T iPhone have already done so.

In fact, there is some evidence to suggest this is exactly the case. A survey by the market analyst firm Piper Jaffray during the iPhone 4 launch weekend found that 77 per cent of people in line for the new handset were AT&T customers looking to upgrade. Then in August, Nielsen reported that 90 per cent of iPhone users in the U.S. said their next smartphone purchase would be another iPhone.

With such a high degree of iPhone users being repeat customers, the numbers suggest Apple needs to expand to other carriers if it wants to expand its reach among U.S. smartphone users. That may happen sooner than later, as current rumors suggest the iPhone may be expanding to other U.S. carriers as early as January.

It should also be noted that Nielsen's August report said Android loyalty was high at 71 per cent; however, Nielsen also found that 21 per cent of Android owners would switch to the iPhone for their next smartphone purchase.

The Smartphone Wars Continue

Android's conquest of the U.S. may also slow down in the coming months thanks to a variety of new players coming to the smartphone market. Microsoft is set to unveil the first round of Windows Phone 7 devices on Monday, and IDC smartphone analyst Ramon Llamas predicts Phone 7 will become a major smartphone brand.

Despite some early bad impressions, most critics like what they see from Phone 7 even though it will sacrifice some basic functionality such as copy-and-paste similar to the first iteration of the iPhone.

A dark horse candidate that could offer some surprises could be Hewlett-Packard's recently acquired WebOS. My PC World colleague Tony Bradley recently said HP's new WebOS 2.0 could make the company "another strong player" in the smartphone and tablet markets. HP is planning on releasing new WebOS smartphones in early 2011, according to Reuters.

Beyond Microsoft and HP, Research in Motion recently launched an updated smartphone OS, Blackberry 6, although it's not clear if the new software will help RIM regain lost ground. If it's a hit, RIM may also place its new PlayBook tablet OS on future handsets, according to Bloomberg.

Perhaps an even longer shot--at least for the U.S. market--would be success for Nokia's new Symbian^3 platform. Nokia is the world's largest feature phone and smartphone manufacturer, but has been steadily losing ground to Apple, RIM and Android. Despite its worldwide dominance, however, Nokia is not a major player in the U.S.

Android may be growing faster than anyone else, but with a slew of new devices coming to market and users remaining loyal to the iPhone, Android's assimilation of U.S. smartphone users is far from complete.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Ian Paul

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