Android smartphones top iPhones, BlackBerries for first time

Nielsen survey of 14,000 customers puts Android at 29%

Android smartphones beat out iPhone and BlackBerry devices for the first time in the U.S. in the latest Nielsen survey conducted just prior to Verizon Wireless sales of the iPhone.

Android devices made by several manufacturers were used by 29% of the U.S. market in the November-through-January reporting period. In comparison, Apple iPhones and BlackBerry devices from Research In Motion each had a 27% share, Nielsen reported.

In Nielsen's most recent report from December, the three top smartphone operating systems were in a "statistical dead heat," a Nielsen spokeswoman said Friday. "I would say [today] is the first time we allude to Android being the lead," she said.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 smartphones had a 10% share of the U.S. market from November through January, while WebOS from Hewlett-Packard had 4% and Symbian from Nokia had 2%.

Nielsen relied upon 14,701 postpaid mobile subscriber surveys to obtain its latest results. In contrast, Gartner, IDC and other analyst firms use sales and shipment figures for their analysis.

The Nielsen blog uses guarded wording to describe Android's position at the top, which some analysts have also pointed to in recent months. "Android appears to be pulling ahead of RIM BlackBerry and Apple iOS," Nielsen said.

Still, RIM and Apple came out on top compared with competing device makers such as HTC and Motorola. That's because RIM is the only maker of its BlackBerry devices, and Apple is the only maker of iPhones, while the Android OS is used by several manufacturers. For Android smartphones, HTC had 12%, Motorola had 10%, Samsung had 5% and all others had 2% of the market.

In another finding, using the same sample, Nielsen found that Android "seems" to be attracting more younger consumers. Among smartphone customers aged 18-34, Android was used by 14%, while the iPhone was used by 12% and the BlackBerry was used by 11%.

Customers aged 25-34 years constitute the largest smartphone user group, slightly ahead of the 35-to-44 age group. The third-largest smartphone customer group is aged 18-24, according to Nielsen.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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