Why 1 in 2 smartphones in the U.K. run Android

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When visiting the U.K. and looking to see what phones the locals use, odds are that every other one has Google Android device in hand. Research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech by way of the Mobile Business Briefing indicates that Android phones command a 49.9 percent market share in the U.K., up from 29 percent a year ago. Much of the Android share comes at the expense of a competitor you might expect to be hurting too badly: Apple’s iPhone.

The data shows that Apple’s market share in the U.K. has fallen to 18.5 percent, which is down from 33 percent last year. That reduction has allowed Research In Motion to capture the no. 2 spot with 22.5 percent of sales. Other notable figures outside the top three include Nokia devices (6 percent) and Microsoft handsets with a scant 1.4 percent of sales.

There are a few reasons I can think of that explain the numbers, and I expect a bit of a reversal in the next six months or so. First, even though the iPhone 4 was a popular model for more than a year, other Android phones arrived to the market before the traditional yearly iPhone refresh. I suspect some in the U.K. decided not to wait for the iPhone 4S and instead purchased a new Samsung or HTC device. Indeed, these two handset makers accounted for 83 percent of all Android sales in the U.K. in the three-month period ending Oct. 2.

The lack of a new iPhone model also came at a time when smartphone adoption in the country was hitting its stride. Kantar Worldpanel ComTech says 69 percent of U.K. handset sales in the most recent quarter were smartphones. With a growing demand, consumers are likely to gravitate toward the newest device models.

Will the market share mix continue with Android leading the pack? I imagine Android will continue to be the market leader, but Apple will leapfrog back over RIM thanks to the new iPhone 4S. There are surely buyers for both iPhones and BlackBerry devices, but in general, RIM still doesn’t offer near the experience, functionality or diversity of applications found on the latest iPhone. Perhaps that will change when RIM launches phones with the new BBX platform, but that’s looking like a 2012 event at this point.

And RIM will soon be facing a new challenge from Nokia, which has long been a cherished brand in Europe. The latest Windows Phones devices built by Nokia will be available in the U.K. starting this month. Microsoft’s newest software, combined within Nokia’s excellent hardware will mean that RIM is likely to be facing multiple challengers for that no. 2 spot.

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