Android market share jumps 7 percentage points from November to February

by Phil Hornshaw

Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system continues to dominate the smartphone market, with one in three handsets in the U.S. carrying the OS, according to a story from MSNBC.

Market research from comScore shows that Android is continuing to pick up steam, as it has been for the last two years. From November to February, Android’s share of the market hopped up 7 percentage points, putting Google’s operating system in the hands of 33 percent of all smartphone owners. Apple’s (AAPL) marketshare with its iPhone increased only 0.2 percentage points during the same period.

The Verizon (VZ) iPhone was the “most acquired” phone during February when it became available, but obviously only a month of sales wasn’t enough to really boost Apple’s market share increase. The phone did post a lot of sales, however -- Verizon claimed it set records with its iPhone pre-sales. By the end of February, Apple claimed 7.5 percent of mobile subscribers.

Meanwhile, new research from comScore suggests that Samsung’s (005930.KS) devices are the most popular among smartphone owners. The company surveyed 30,000 mobile subscribers from November to February and found that Samsung devices were used by 24.8 percent of them.

With Samsung at the top of the subscriber pool and Apple at the bottom, there are a few other companies filling out the list. LG posted 20.9 percent of subscribers, with no change from November to February, with Motorola (MMI) following with 16.1 percent and a 0.9 percent decrease. Research In Motion (RIMM), the creators of the BlackBerry, was above only Apple, with a loss of 0.2 percent to fall to 8.6 percent of subscribers.

Android is the top of the heap for operating systems, followed by RIM, which still posts 28.9 percent of subscribers, despite falling more than 4.6 percent by February. Apple is up to 25.2 percent, and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone 7 is down to 7.7 percent after a drop of 1.3 percent. Bringing up the rear is Palm’s operating system, down to just 2.8 percent with a 1.1 percent decrease by February.

There seems to be no stopping Android, at least right now. Apple is still a big contender, but the sheer volume of phones moving with Android installed on them has a lot to do with its dominance -- there’s no real contention from Microsoft at present, and RIM is struggling to find a better way to compete in the newly app-heavy market.

Things may change going into the future for Android, though -- or at least, that’s what Apple fans would have you believe. Google recently announced that, at least for the time being, its tablet version of Android, Honeycomb 3.0, would not be released as open source. Instead, Google is sharing the source code for Honeycomb with “select partners.”

John Gruber, an Apple writer at Daring Fireball, called the move a “bait and switch” on Google’s part, and other Apple blogs picked up the torch and ran with it. The complaint is that Google has released the OS as open source to get cell phone providers dependent on it, and now is changing its tune now that it has LG, Motorola, Samsung and others on the hook.

Whether that change in philosophy will have an effect on Android in the market, obviously, remains to be seen. Google’s assertion of control over Android has the potential to help with a lot of the problems the OS is known for -- namely, fragmentation in the way it works between devices and carriers, and difficulty in producing apps for it. Cleaning up those issues may or may not fall into the “bait and switch” category as Gruber sees it; how Google handles itself with Android from now on, though, could very well make a difference in how well the OS continues to fare with carriers and users around the world.