Nielsen: As U.S. Nears Smartphone Majority, It’s A Two-Horse Race Between Android and Apple’s iOS

New numbers out from Nielsen today point to just how close the U.S. is to having more smartphone than feature phone users: analysts say 49.7 percent of cell phone users currently own a smartphone, a big leap on the 36 percent who owned smartphones only a year ago.

What’s increasingly clear in that growth is that, at least in the U.S., no other platform is proving to be a contender against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Currently, Android-based smartphones account for 48 percent of all smartphones owned in the U.S., while Apple’s different versions of the iPhone account for 32 percent. Both of those shares have grown: in September 2011, Nielsen said that Android’s share was 40 percent and Apple’s 28 percent.

When it comes to smartphones that are getting bought, the power of those two platforms is even stronger. In the last three months, Android accounted (again) for 48 percent of all handsets purchased, while Apple accounted for 43 percent.

This growth was at the expense of BlackBerry, now down to just five percent of handsets bought, with the rest of the other platforms — which includes Microsoft’s Windows Phone — accounting for 4 percent of purchased smartphones.

The big question for Microsoft/Nokia is whether Windows Phone will have what it takes to break out as a separate item in this list from the “others” pack. And the big question for RIM is whether it has what it takes to keep from becoming just another platform in the “other” category.

But while Android and Apple have cornered the market for purchases so far, there is still 50.3 percent of the market to play for, according to Nielsen’s figures. That’s still a lot of consumers, but most likely targeting a different kind of consumer from those who have bought handsets already.

Nielsen’s figures show a lot of momentum for smartphones in general: two-thirds of all handsets bought at the moment are smartphones, its analysts say.

[Photo: Paolo Camera, Flickr]