Apple and Google both winning the smartphone race

“In latest smartphone battle, Android thrashes Apple iOS”

“Apple boosts share of US cellphone market”

These seemingly conflicting headlines today appeared side by side on the technology pages of one major Internet news service. What gives? Surely Google’s Android operating platform and Apple’s iPhone can’t both be doing well?

It turns out they are. And with a surging smartphone market set to experience yet more explosive growth, they could both be doing very well for several years to come.

A recent survey of 30,000 mobile subscribers by market intelligence firm comScore found that one in three U.S. smartphones are now powered by Android, a whopping 7 percentage point gain in just the last three months. This compares with just a 0.2 percent gain by Apple’s iOS, hence the “thrashing” headline above.

But wait. The same survey also revealed that Apple’s iPhone increased its share of the U.S. mobile phone market faster than any other cellphone maker in the same three month period. It now has around 7.5 percent of the 234 million U.S. subscribers, a gain of 0.9 percentage points over last November.

The key factor for both Google and Apple is not the size of the smartphone market now but what it could become over the next few years. Of those 234 million U.S. subscribers, “only” 69.5 million have smartphones. That means there are over 150 million potential upgrades to look forward to, as well millions of existing smartphone users switching to newer models.

Meanwhile, the other mobile operating systems are getting squeezed as the two Silicon Valley giants duke it out. Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones, lost almost 5 percentage points as it fell into second place, and Microsoft and Palm remain mired in the single-digits.

In terms of the immediate future, Apple can expect to get a boost when the iPhone 5 is introduced, probably later this summer, and it now has Verizon’s marketing muscle to count on too. But the problem for Apple is that Android phones just keep on coming. Because Google gives the software away for free – along with built-in must-have apps like search, Maps, and Gmail – it has no trouble persuading smartphone manufacturers to use it.

In other survey results, text messaging remains the most popular non-voice usage of cellphones (68.8 percent of subscribers), followed by web browsing (38.4 percent), downloading apps (36.6 percent), accessing social networks (28.8 percent), and playing games (24.6 percent).

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