The Apple/Google Android Mobile Horse Race

Recent reports about Apple and Google mobile market shares might seem a bit contradictory, but the gist of them is fairly simple: both companies are winning in the mobile space.

According to a recent report from Canalys, Apple has taken the U.S. smartphone share lead for Q3 2010 with just over 26% marketshare — edging out 2nd-place RIM by only 2%. But in terms of mobile OS, Android maintained its previous U.S. lead, with close to 44% for Q3 2010. However, consumer researcher NPG Group’s findings show that Google’s Android mobile OS’s U.S. share jumped considerably (3% to 44%) between Q3 2009 and Q3 2010, whereas Apple and RIM have fallen in that time period — RIM considerably, by a drop of 24% in that one year period.

On the flipside, both Apple and RIM won with handsets. Apple’s iPhone 4 and RIM’s BlackBerry Curve 8500 took first and second spots, respectively, in Q3 2010 as top handsets. High-end Android phones such as Motorola Droid X and HTC EVO 4G, which took 4th and 5th places, respectively, are examples of handsets that have helped Android move into and maintain top mobile OS spot.

Of course, since Android has multiple active versions in the wild and is not limited to one manufacturer’s handsets, it’s not surprising that this mobile OS is in the lead. Also, it doesn’t hurt that there are some pretty sexy high-end Android smartphones competing with Apple’s iPhones. I recently purchased a Droid X for Android development and I have to say I’m liking the phone about as much as my iPhone 3GS. I also like the Android experience, though that may change once I get an iPhone 4.

Now the question is, can Android maintain its lead as top mobile OS (at least for the U.S.)? Android apps are available in multiple “marketplaces” (including Google’s official one), and that number is going to grow. For example, Barnes & Noble is coming out later this month with their Nook Color, an Android-based media tablet that has maybe not the ability to compete with the Apple iPad but to do well if marketed properly. However, taking a page from Apple’s strategy, B&N plans to have its own curated marketplace for Nook Color apps. Similarly, wireless carrier Verizon already has its own VCast apps market for Android.

Whether marketplace, OS version and UI fragmentation is good for Android or not remains to be seen; Google is apparently making an effort to unify the Android UI experience for consumers. The fact is that there’s a lot of confidence in the OS. According to Millenial Media’s State of the App Industry 2010 Report, a survey of app developers and app publishers suggests that the top mobile platforms for 2011 will be, from highest to lowest, iPhone (30%), Android (23%), iPad (21%), RIM (12%), Windows Mobile (6%), Palm (5%), and Symbian (3%) [via ReadWriteWeb and Venture Beat]. Of course, those numbers might change as Android tablets — which will on average be lower-priced than iPads — come to market.

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