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Android eclipses iPhone in US, multiplies in NZ

Thu, 13 May 2010

Market tracker NPD Group sees a sharp rise in the number of smartphones on the US market running Google’s Android operating system software - to the point where Android handsets, marketed variously by Dell, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and Google itself (with its Nexus house brand, made by HTC), now outnumber Apple’s iPhone (see chart).

Some have expressed scepticism about NPD’s figures (remember, Apple sold a record 8.75% million iPhones during its latest quarter), but the group is considered the gold standard in other areas, such as game console sales.

ABOVE: As more and more phone makers release Android models, NPD sees a sharp rise in market share for the Google OS. RIM's BlackBerry still leads, on 36%, but has fallen sharply. Google Android OS-based handsets now have 28% share, zooming ahead of devices (iPhone, iPad) running Apple's software (OS X above), on 21%. Struggling Palm was recently bought by HP.

No single Android model has come close to the iPhone (the Nexus, by Google’s own admission, has sold a modest 500,000).

But collectively, phones based on Google’s software are now, undeniably, gaining serious traction.

The flow-on effect can only be that Google’s Android MarketPlace (its equivalent to the Apple’s iTunes AppStore) must now, surely, hit critical mass. Already, it’s increasingly common for hit iPhone apps to be ported for Android.

New Android sightings in NZ
Android handsets have been low-profile in New Zealand over the past 12 months, restricted to a single HTC model on Vodafone.

But Telecom has now also introduced an Android model from LG (the GW620, $699; pictured below).

And yesterday, I headed up to Sony to collect the Android-based Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10, an all-touchscreen model (left) that will be released in New Zealand during June, priced at $1399.

Sony-Ericsson commercial manager Lone Misikini told me that, all going to plan, the Xperia X10 will be on both Telecom and Vodafone (it comes in both 850/2100MHz and 900MHz/2100MHz flavours).

That will make the X10 the first Android model to appear across both networks, which can only help the Google OS cause (a key factor in its US success, recorded by NPD above, is that Android handsets span multiple carriers, while the iPhone and iPad - shades of NZ - is restricted to a single telco, AT&T).

Another reason for Android’s success is that handsets based on the Google OS tend to be cheaper.

That hasn’t been the case here yet, but the Sony-Ericsson manager said his company would release two more Android models into New Zealand in around four months.

Both will be cheaper; one will be the Mini version of the Xperia X10.

And there’s more to come. Motorola has also committed to releasing Android handsets here, although so far there’s no word on its Droid.

The right way to jump on a bandwagon
The big question now is whether Nokia will come to the Android party. So far, the Finnish phone maker - still easily the world’s largest, by market share - remains on a path toward Linux, and committed to its own appstore, Ovi.

It’s a tricky situation. Phone makers like Nokia realise that, increasingly, the mobile war centers around software, and that downloads and services are where the money is. But how to jump on the Android bandwagon without losing your identity, and becoming a commodity hardware maker?

In Sony-Ericsson’s case, it’s overlaying its own whizzy 3D interface on top of Android.

After the clean and simple, regular iteration of Android on HTC’s Magic, I’m finding that quite a change of pace.

More on the Xperia, and LG’s Android, shortly. 

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Android eclipses iPhone in US, multiplies in NZ