A report out today from The Nielsen Company shows a tight three-way race between Android, Apple and BlackBerry for the U.S. smartphone market. Microsoft comes in fourth with what at first glance seems a respectable 10 percent share, although that’s a mix of the new Windows Phone 7 and the likely closeout priced Windows Mobile operating system.
The Nielsen numbers, which track actual ownership by consumers rather than shipments by manufacturer, show that phones running Google’s Android OS are the most popular with a 29 percent share of the market. Apple iOS and RIM Blackberry are tied for second with 27 percent each. Again, Microsoft has 10 percent, the HP/Palm webOS has a 4 percent share while Nokia’s Symbian brings up the rear at 2 percent.
A closer look at the Microsoft numbers shows it’s a mix of Windows Mobile and WP7. The Microsoft category is broken down by handset manufacturer as follows: 7 percent of smartphones are HTC devices that run WP7; 2 percent are Samsungs also running WP7; 1 percent are Motorola phones, which would have to be Windows Mobile because Motorola does not offer a WP7 version; and the same goes for HP, whose Windows Mobile smartphones account for 1 percent of all smartphones owned in the U.S. Another 1 percent share was attributed to “other” manufacturers, which could include the Dell Venue Pro line running WP7, sold directly by Dell but activated on T-Mobile.
The Nielsen survey asked what brand of phones consumers owned and what OS it runs when they were surveyed between Nov. 2010 and Jan. 2011. Nielsen’s survey size is 14,701 consumers. Unfortunately, the Nielsen numbers are not of carrier activations during that period so it’s not a gauge of who ran out and bought what new device during those three months, during which WP7 was being heavily promoted after its Nov. 8 launch.
Tech media trying to gauge the success of Windows Phone 7 have been frustrated by the lack of specific data on how it’s doing. While Microsoft has been happy to share positive unit sales numbers for such products as Windows 7 (300 million licenses), it’s limited news about WP7 to units shipped by manufacturers (two million as of Jan. 26). Activations is a more telling measure of consumer interest in WP7 but that’s up to carriers to disclose, and IDC analyst Ramon Llamas told me recently that carriers are “loathe” to share those numbers.
If we can assume the HTC (7 percent) and Samsung (2 percent) share and that some of the “Other” category is the Dell Venue Pro, and thus are all using the WP7 OS, then WP7, according to Nielsen, has nearly 10 percent of the U.S. smartphone market.
At least it’s a place to start.
Robert Mullins is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. He has been writing about technology from Silicon Valley for more than a decade. He has covered such beats as network security, servers, storage, software development, telecommunications and, of course, Microsoft, for a variety of publications, most notably the IDG News Service and Network World.