Apple, RIM, Android Tied; Windows, WebOS MIA: Nielsen/NPD

The latest missive in the never-ending "who's winning  the smartphone wars" discussion came yesterday as Nielsen released US smartphone OS data. In addition to general market share, the firm sliced the data by race and ethic group.

Apple is the leading platform among Asians/Pacific Islanders, while Blackberry is the leader among African-Americans. The numbers are not so significant as to enable demographic targeting by race or ethnicity on the basis of handset ownership -- although non-whites have higher smartphone penetration rates according to Nielsen. 

More significantly the company now says that there's a "three-way tie" between Android, RIM and Apple in the US smartphone market. Essentially Apple/iPhone is flat, while RIM has lost significant momentum and Android has gained dramatically. 

smartphone-OS-share

However in the past six months it's all about Android, reflecting the barrage of new handsets and the broad distribution of those units across all the major US carriers and, increasingly, the pre-paid carriers too. 

OS-acquire-last-6-months

It will be quite interesting to see what happens at Verizon with the iPhone over the next month. Online orders begin tomorrow. Assuming some lift/growth for the iPhone the question becomes: what's going to happen with RIM? The Canada-based company continues to sell lots of handsets and see growth outside North America but its outlook continues to worsen in the US market. 

RIM may maintain healthy revenues but investors will flee if they sense that the trajectory is negative and that BlackBerry is losing ground, which these and other numbers indicate. 

Regarding Windows Phones, we had heard Microsoft report that OEMs had shipped lots of devices to carriers. The company was under pressure to reveal some numbers as tech journalists interpreted  the company's silence as an admission of poor sales performance. However, when it released the OEM-carrier numbers consumer sales figures were not reported. Now, according to data from NPD, Windows Phones were reportedly outsold by predecessor Windows Mobile devices (which is kind of amazing because of their inferiority):

Apple iOS share declined 4 percentage points to comprise 19 percent of unit sales in Q4; RIM OS fell 2 points to tie Apple’s 19 percent; Windows Mobile, Microsoft’s legacy OS, fell 3 points to 4 percent, as the new Windows Phone 7 OS debuted at 2 percent; and Palm’s WebOS held at 2 percent.

These numbers may be a statement about brand awareness or the degree to which Apple-Android-RIM attention is crowding out everything else in the US market. (Nokia's not on the radar but will likely be embracing Android soon to try and get back into the US market.)

Microsoft has continued to invest in its Online Business Services unit despite losing money quarter after quarter. Will the company be similarly patient with the mobile OS or will it, after several lackluster quarters, feel compelled to make a move on RIM or even Nokia? Today RIM's market cap is $31 billion, Nokia's is roughly $40 billion. 

It would seem that WebOS (HP) is all but dead and, notwithstanding the promise of tablets and new handsets, will have difficulty reviving consumer interest.