Android And iOS Still Lead In Smartphone Market Share, But The Race For Third Rages On

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Nielsen released another of their periodic looks at the U.S. smartphone market today, and aside from the revelation that two-thirds of U.S. phone purchasers went for smartphones in Q2 2012, the results are as you’d expect.

Android still leads the pack in terms of pure penetration — as of this past June, it accounts for 51.8% of smartphones in use (up from 50.4% in Q1 2012) with Apple’s iOS right behind it at 34%. Don’t feel too bad for Apple though, as they still have the highest manufacturer share by far (34% in Q2), with Samsung at a distant second.

That those two platforms still hold first and second place shouldn’t come as surprise, and their slight gains come at a cost. Nielsen has RIM still clinging to third place despite another quarterly drop, as it now accounts for 8.1% of smartphones in use. Meanwhile, the rest of the competition languishes below 5% as of Q2 2012.

It’s that part of the market that seems the most interesting right now, as there’s still plenty of room in the market for a third strong mobile ecosystem to emerge while Apple and Google continue to slug it out. The question though is what that third platform will be, and there are no clear indicators to be found in Nielsen’s data.

RIM looks like a possibility, considering it has managed to hold on to a its tenuous third, though it’s tough to say how their recent performance will affect this figure going forward. CEO Thorsten Heins noted during the company’s somewhat contentious shareholders meeting that their current and forthcoming BlackBerry 7 devices would comprise the company’s low and mid-range product tiers until it can push out a full slate of BB10 hardware next year.

Still, RIM had best gird itself for a long(er) transition period, as its split focus between platforms may not do it any favors. The process of shifting users from older devices to new ones will take a considerable amount of time, especially as the company focuses on getting existing BlackBerry users to upgrade right now.

Of course, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 is set to make its official debut this fall, putting it well ahead of RIM’s nascent “computing platform.” That’s not to say a head start is all that it takes to win in a race like this — there’s something to be said for how well a company can capture new customers (or upgrade older ones), and Microsoft seems to have had some issues with that. Nielsen’s data still puts Microsoft’s aging Windows Mobile platform (3% of the market as of Q2 2012) ahead of the much-newer Windows Phone (1.3%). With any luck, Microsoft has learned a few things and garnered enough developer support to put Windows Phone 8 higher up in the rankings, but only time will tell whether or not either of these companies has the savvy to make real contenders of their forthcoming mobile operating systems.