Blog Post

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 (s goog) and Apple (s aapl) continued their smartphone momentum, while Microsoft (s msft), Palm (s palm) and Research In Motion (s rimm) 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

11 Responses to “Smartphone Share — Google Grows While RIM Slows, Palm Reverses”

  1. Roger Cornall

    It’s about the apps and developer community. This will keep apple and increasingly Android on top for at least the next 18 months. Android will overtake Windows by years end.

  2. timjones17

    There’s a report out by ABI Research that says that the iPhone lost marketshare, down to 16.6 percent of smartphone sales in Q4 – from 18.1 percent in Q3. 8.7 million iPhones were sold, actually less than what Wall Street analysts expected, in Q4, and while that’s 18% more than in the quarter before, overall, the smartphone market grew 26% in the same time period.

  3. I don’t trust those stats. My research and industry contacts indicate Window Mobile declining much more rapidly while Apple is increasing more. Actually Android is growing faster than all them because they are on many many more devices than just phones.

    • True, different sources measure in different ways. That’s why I look for the trends as opposed to absolute numbers.

      “Actually Android is growing faster than all them because they are on many many more devices than just phones.” That may be true, but since the report data clearly focuses on smartphones, other devices are out of scope. ;)

  4. Philip Lovely

    It would be interesting to see symbian numbers as well as worldwide it does well. I can appreciate symbian does not do great in the US it has a big following elsewhere.


  5. Do the numbers for Palm include both WebOS and the older Palm OS? If so, I suspect that plays a big role in their drop. Particularly with WebOS only on a single carrier during that time, it seems that the pace of previous Centro and Treo users shifting to other platforms very likely would have been higher than the pace of adoption by new Pre/Pixi users.

    • Good question, but comScore doesn’t specify. I would guess that it includes both webOS and PalmOS. But if it does, that’s not a good situation for Palm. You want your existing customer base to migrate to your own new platform if possible, not somebody else’s. The single carrier for webOS during the reporting time definitely didn’t help. Let’s see how the first quarter of 2010 is with the addition of Verizon. Should be much better.