The Smartphone Wars: Android measured at over 50% U.S. market share

Two consecutive smartphone-wars posts is unusual here, I know, but the latest marketshare news is high-explosive stuff. The Guardian in Great Britain has published data from a European market-research outfit, Kantar WorldPanel Comtech; the article is titled Nokia and RIM bleeding smartphone share while Android cleans up, and includes a very informative table of smartphone share numbers by country. They become even more interesting when set against the ComScore numbers covering Nov 2010 to February 2011, which I previously analyzed in The Smartphone Wars: Almost boring now….

The article does not say outright whether Kantar is reporting new-unit sales or total installed base, but the Kantar November 2010 figures for Microsoft, RIM, and Apple are so close to comScore’s from July 2010 that I think it must be the total installed base. Their differences max out at about 4%, which is not far above statistical noise level, and fit their known market-share trend lines for that period. Android is 19% in Kantar’s June 2010 results vs. 26% in comScore’s November 2010 ones, which can be accounted for by the (known) phenomenal growth between June and November.

So it appears the comScore and Kantar numbers are comparable. But if I’ve been fooled by a numerical coincidence, that’s not going to make a long-term difference. In a market turning over technology and units as fast as smartphones are, installed base doesn’t lag new-unit sales by a whole lot. If the Kantar figures aren’t describing total installed base now, they’re predicting it in 3 to 6 months.

At the risk of reducing the rest of this post to anticlimax, I will first report that Kantar measures Android market share in the U.S. at 54.7% in March 2011. This is a 21% jump from comScore’s February figures in a single month. It suggests that, a good six months sooner than I expected, Android is entering the final runaway to uncontested market dominance at 85% or up.

It’s certainly not looking like any competitor has what it takes to stop Android. Kantar has Symbian at 1.2%, Microsoft at 4.9%, RIM at 10.6% and Apple at %27.2. While regaining second place is good news for Apple, this is mostly because RIM is going down in flames; a gain of less than 2% since February isn’t going to do diddly to Android when Android’s growth rate is literally an order of magnitude higher.

Results from other countries show local variations on a similar pattern. Android is hammering the snot out of its competitors everywhere. The main difference from the U.S. is that while iOS is still posting tiny share gains here, it’s getting badly hurt elsewhere. In France it has actually lost 23% of share in the last year! It’s hardly doing better in Great Britain; -16%.

There are fewer surprises in the analysis above the table. “The key underlying trend is that Android is growing in every country,” said Dominic Sunnebo, described as “consumer insight director” for Kantar. He zeroes in on the Android army’s faster OODA loop and ability to place lots of different product bets at different price and capability points – quite a familiar theme to readers of this blog. He also identifies low Android cost as a major sales driver outside the developed world.

In a recent post I projected that serious zero-sum competition between Android and Apple wouldn’t begin until at least 3Q2011 after Android has chewed up the market share of all the soft targets – RIM and Microsoft, most notably. Kantar’s non-US figures give us a foretaste if what that’s going to be like, and they suggest that I may actually have overestimated Apple’s ability to retain share under Android pressure. It looks as though the disruptive collapse of iPhone has arrived in Europe.

The figures also point an increasingly bleak picture for the NoWin alliance, which has failed to stop both Nokia and Microsoft from incurring severe losses in market share. It is beginning to look as though the earliest possible time Nokia could ship WP7-based smartphones is going to be well after Android has achieved a strong supermajority. Since the minority competitor seems certain to be Apple, it’s difficult to locate a plausible point of entry for NoWin phones.

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