Smartphone Share — Google Grows While RIM Slows, Palm Reverses


There’s no lack of smartphone market share numbers and usage statistics available for analysis. It feels like I’m reading a new set of quarterly numbers every few weeks, which sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. The latest data comes courtesy of comScore’s MobiLens product and the numbers show a continuing trend of new platforms eating away at the old guard. In the final quarter of 2009, Google and Apple continued their smartphone momentum, while Microsoft, Palm and Research In Motion all stumbled slightly.

The reported data looks at subscribed smartphone platforms by those aged 13 and up in the United States. That’s a different metric from what I’ve typically seen — often, firms try to measure the usage by platform, which is a challenge. After all, you can only measure the usage scenarios that you know of or are involved with. AdMob, recently bought by Google, is a perfect example of this method — its data only includes measurements from applications that use its mobile advertising platform. That’s not a bad way to measure, but it is a limited one.

I’ve consolidated the comScore data into this chart for ease of reading and it’s evident to see who grew and who lost from the third quarter to the fourth of last year.

Palm shows both the largest nominal and percentage decrease — it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Google leapfrogs Palm by mid-2010. Android’s momentum is picking up steam with more handsets and more frequent updates than Palm is offering. Having webOS devices on a single carrier in the U.S. didn’t help Palm either. Although the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus are now available on Verizon Wireless, that didn’t happen until the first month of 2010. These numbers won’t reflect the wider availability and buy one, get one free deals on webOS devices that Verizon offered. The next quarter’s numbers ought to show a positive impact for Palm, but the question is — how much of an impact will that be?

The BlackBerry platform still holds the top spot, but this is one of the first scenarios I can remember that BlackBerry numbers are in decline. While Research In Motion has made a very successful expansion from enterprise to consumer over the last few years, the new handsets seem like the older ones evolved and not as revolutionary as people are looking for. A great keyboard will take you far — think Lenovo and the ThinkPad notebooks — but there’s more to a solid overall product than one hardware attribute. Besides, some of the hottest phones today don’t even offer a hardware keyboard. Research In Motion has done well, but needs to step up their game lest the trend continue.

Microsoft lost ground as well, but I think that’s to be expected given that Windows Mobile 6.5 was also more evolutionary than revolutionary. The latest update, v.6.5.3 is probably what 6.5 should have been and shows promise. Unfortunately, it arrived after the comScore reporting period, so any positive effects from that release won’t appear until this quarter or the next. Of course, Window Mobile 7 is expected to cure many ills as well, so the second half of 2010 into 2011 will be worth watching from a Microsoft point of view.

The chart above isn’t too bone-jarring — the actual change doesn’t really focus on the rates of growth or decline, which I’d loosely equate to momentum. I took the same comScore numbers from the third and fourth quarters of 2009 and charted the percentage of each platform’s positive or negative change. The picture takes on a whole new meaning.

Here you can clearly see the momentum of growth for Google’s Android platform — and Palm’s going in reverse. But Palm ought to be on the positive side once the Verizon webOS sales hit. The same for Microsoft although I don’t expect to see them on the plus side for at least two or three quarters. Amazingly, Apple continues its march forward with no new handset models since last summer and not even that many feature-filled upgrades. And Research In Motion shows negative momentum, even with new handsets and their App World. What’s it going to take to slow Apple and Google down?

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Mobile Winners and Losers in 2009

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