Apple, Android Battling for Smartphone Leadership in Mobile OS Race

News Analysis: Depending on how you look at it, either Apple or Android phones are in the lead worldwide. What's more certain is who's dropping farther back.

The mobile phone market is changing. Depending on how you slice that market, the biggest winner in the last year was either Apple or Google. Apple is the largest maker of smartphone handsets, but Google's Android smartphone OS is the top seller while Apple's iOS is No. 2.

But for the top handset market share, it's still Nokia, due mostly to its vast number of non-smartphone sales. However, Nokia's smartphone sales are off while the company sells units with its aged Symbian operating system and waits for Microsoft Phone 7 equipped devices to appear in large numbers.

Apple enjoyed explosive growth in smartphone sales over last year, with an increase of 141.8 percent, according to an IDC report. Nokia, while still tops in overall phone market share suffered a drop in sales of more than 20 percent.

But there's more to the smartphone market than who makes the handset. According to a Nielsen survey, Android-based phones now own 39 percent of the U.S. market compared to Apple's 28 percent. The reason for the difference, of course, is there are multiple handset makers supporting the Android OS, while there's only one Apple-supporting iOS.

Meanwhile, there are any number of rumors that could change the dynamic significantly, depending on what turns out to be true. For example, there's a rumor that Apple could offer the iPhone to all U.S. carriers instead of just AT&T and Verizon Wireless. If that were to happen, perhaps there's a chance that Apple could surge ahead of the Android devices by opening up availability. There's certainly demand-one source at T-Mobile told me that there are about a million iPhone users on T-Mobile now-enough that T-Mobile stores are selling some iPhone accessories.

The level of hype surrounding the iPhone, especially the long anticipated iPhone 5 will also help build market share for both the device and for iOS. According to a PriceGrabber survey, 35 percent of consumers say they will buy an iPhone 5 when it comes out. If these numbers pan out (and that's not a sure thing) then that could bump the iPhone into top place in the United States and perhaps globally in the smartphone market.

But what about the other guys? There have been a number of reports that BlackBerry maker RIM is on the ropes and could collapse any time. Reports have also said that Windows Phone 7 is going nowhere.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...