Apple's iPhone and devices based on Google's Android operating system are running away in a rapidly growing smartphone market that is now as large at the feature phone space, according to numbers in the latest Nielsen Wire report.
And the iPhone's growth appears to be coming at the expense of Research In Motion and its BlackBerry portfolio, which is nearly tied with the "other" category in the percentage of people who say they've bought a smartphone over the three months leading up to the Nielsen survey.
Google's Android OSwhich is used by a wide variety of device makers, from Samsung and Motorola to HTC and LG Electronicsnow holds about 48 percent of the smartphone market in the United States. Almost a third32.1 percentof smartphone owners said they own an Apple iPhone, while BlackBerry accounted for 11.6 percent of the smartphones on the U.S. market, according to Nielsen.
The numbers changedsignificantly for Apple and RIMwhen Nielsen surveyed people who had bought a smartphone in the previous three months. Forty-eight percent of those people surveyed in February chose an Android-based device, keeping in line with the Android numbers in the overall smartphone market.
However, 43 percent of new owners said they bought an iPhone, while 5 percent said they chose a BlackBerry device.
The numbers reflect what analysts and journalists heard March 29 during a conference call with new RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, who said that the BlackBerry maker needed to pull away a bit from the consumer market and focus on its strength in the enterprise. Heins' comments were part of a larger discussion about the need to restructure RIM in the wake of struggles over the past couple of years, as Apple and Google-driven devices have eaten away at BlackBerry's market share.
In the previous fiscal quarter, RIM saw its bad news continue, seeing a 25 percent drop in revenue over the same period last year and posting a $125 million loss. The company shipped 11.1 million BlackBerry smartphones and more than 500,000 BlackBerry PlayBook tablets.
During the conference call, Heins admitted that RIM under the previous regime was behind on the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, with a growing number of employees looking to use their personal smartphones and tablets for work. He said RIM will refocus on its enterprise expertise and address the consumer market in select areas, and mostly through partnerships.
"We believe that BlackBerry cannot succeed if we try to be everybody's darling and all things to all people," Heins said. "Therefore, we plan to build on our strengths, to go after targeted consumer segments, and we will seek strong partnerships to deliver those consumer features and content that are not central to the BlackBerry [value] position, for example, media consumption applications."
Smartphones are rapidly growing in popularity, according to Nielsen's numbers. According to the survey, 49.7 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, as of February. That compares with 36 percent of subscribers in February 2011, a 38 percent increase year-over-year.
More than two-thirds of those who bought a mobile phone in the three months leading up to the survey bought a smartphone, Nielsen said.