More than 70 percent of consumers who intend to purchase a smartphone over the next six months will purchase an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone or a handset based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, according to a Yankee Group survey.
The researcher, which polled more than 15,000 people, learned that more than 47 percent of U.S. respondents own a smartphone, and 58 percent of those surveyed said they would buy a smartphone as their next mobile handset.
Android enjoys an installed base of 39 percent in the United States, with 39 percent of respondents vowing to buy an Android handset in the next six months. Currently, 25 percent of respondents own an iPhone, but 35 percent of respondents said they are leaning toward purchasing an iPhone in the next six months.
That means some 74 percent of U.S. consumers plan to acquire an Android or iPhone over the first half of 2012.
Yankee expects the smartphone market will soar to more than 175 million devices by 2015, up from 97 million in 2011. The natural inclination is to believe the wealth will be spread around to multiple operating systems.
Not true, said Yankee analyst Katie Lewis, who found that most consumers aren't particularly interested in acquiring smartphones based on Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry or Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Mobile/Phone.
Noting that RIM and Microsoft are having a hard time coaxing their existing customer bases to buy new phones, Lewis said 20 percent U.S. consumers own a RIM BlackBerry, but only 12 percent intending to buy a smartphone in the next six months will purchase a BlackBerry handset.
Of the 14 percent of consumers who own a Windows Mobile-based device, only 9 percent of those asked said they would pick up a phone based on the new Windows Phone OS.
"Opportunities within the smartphone market abound, but we've reached a critical point where graves could be dug for several OS vendors," Lewis wrote. "Consumer decisions made in the next three years are likely to seal the fate, good or bad, of many OSs. Now is the time for these vendors to fight for survival."
Such a tone might be overly dramatic, especially with a market evolving so quickly. It's true that it's hard to see the light of day for RIM, but it's tough to exclude the company from the smartphone growth conversation until we see the response to its QNX-based BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
Microsoft and Nokia in particular showed some promising signs of late with the gorgeous Nokia Lumia 900 handset, which is coming in March on AT&T's (NYSE:T) 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) network. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop reaffirmed confidence over Windows Phone, which has drawn rave reviews from even stout Microsoft critics, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.
Even so, Lewis actually recommends Microsoft should buy Nokia to strengthen Windows Phone sales.
"The Nokia partnership isn't strong enough to drive gains in market share and to convince other manufacturers to adopt Windows Phone," Lewis wrote. "The only way Microsoft can control its ecosystem is to take ownership of the hardware as well as the software, and Nokia's world-class manufacturing capabilities are just the ticket."
Still, it's hard to argue against the fast-moving market locomotives of Android, which has over 50 percent worldwide smartphone market share, and the indomitable iPhone, which has roughly 20 percent market share worldwide.
Combined, these platforms have more than 800,000 applications in their ecosystems, multiples beyond any other smartphone platform. The developers are clearly going where the people are, and there's little reason to think that will change.