Who's Winning the Smartphone Platform Wars?

The mobile industry has become a battleground for smartphone dominance. With roughly 42% of all U.S. mobile customers now using smartphones, finding ways to provide more advanced computing power and connectivity is a must for leading platform operators such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iOS.

Market leaders
Google closed out 2011 with nearly half of the U.S. smartphone market, while Apple racked up 30% market share for the year. Android surged to the top largely thanks to price advantages -- the Android phone being more of a mass-market product and iOS a premium product. While the Android operating system currently leads in global market share, Apple's App Store remains the leading ecosystem in terms of revenue, as well as the number and popularity of apps offered.

That's important, because in this industry competitive pricing and performance are no longer enough. Today, the leading platforms are those with the strongest ecosystems of apps, developers, and content providers. That could explain Google's recent decision to rebrand its Android Market, which will now be known as "Google Play." In an attempt to mimic Apple's popular iTunes and others in the space, Google Play will be a one-stop-shop for accessing digital entertainment on Android-powered devices.

Market laggards 
I'm not sure this is enough to bounce iTunes from the top spot. However, a more integrated Android platform is likely to widen the gap between Apple and Google's systems and other smartphone platforms, including Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Phone and Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry OS.

According to comScore, Microsoft's U.S. smartphone market share dropped to a new low of just 4.4% in January 2012. BlackBerry also lost smartphone subscribers this year, with its share falling from 17.2% in October of last year down to 15.2% in January. But don't write Windows off just yet. The Windows Phone should claim more of the mid-market and low-end range as Nokia transitions its phones from the Symbian platform over to the Windows operating system. Don't believe me? Nokia said it sold 1 million Windows Phone devices in the fourth quarter last year, and while that hardly competes with the 17.1 million iPhone's Apple sold, it is a note of progress for both Nokia and Microsoft.

The takeaway
Apple and Google are the clear winners here, as they're able to take advantage of network effects that their respective ecosystems have created. For example, as an iPhone user you're loyal to that platform because all of your apps and downloaded content are on iTunes. These types of advantages put Apple and Google in a league of their own. And this is only the beginning of the smartphone market boom. You can discover "3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution" today, in this free report from The Motley Fool's leading analysts. Get a look at the free report and learn how you can capitalize on this technology revolution.

Fool contributor Tamara Rutter owns shares of Apple and Nokia. Follow her on Twitter, where she uses the handle @TamaraRutter, for more Foolish news and updates. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, Nokia, and Microsoft and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2012, at 4:40 PM, ipodzrock wrote:

    Wow were your facts wrong ... Apple actually sold 37 million iPhones las quarter not 17.1 million as you state. So 1 million Windows Phones sold by Nokia in the same time period does hardly compete.

    http://www.tuaw.com/2012/01/24/apple-announces-q1-2012-earni...

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2012, at 7:46 PM, jdwelch62 wrote:

    Tamara is right about the ecosystem mattering, however. When I got the green light from my boss ( read: wife) to get a tablet for my birthday a few months back, I did a lot of research on comparisons of the iPad to the Kindle Fire. The $300 difference in price between them is not a small matter, but in the end, the summary of all of the articles I researched came down to the huge difference in the number of apps available to either. So, for me at least, the iPad won, and I choked up the extra 3 bills for one. That's just me, tho...

    :-)

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2012, at 7:51 PM, jdwelch62 wrote:

    ...That being said, watch out for when Windows 8 comes out for tablets, smartphones and Ultrabooks, and see what happens when millions of legacy applications that people are used to, if not completely dependent on, now all run on all 3 platforms... It'll be interesting to see what the market share breakout is in the tablet space at the end of 2013...

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2012, at 10:59 PM, techy46 wrote:

    It's amazing that there's still over 300 million PCs sold a year after over 20 years of sales yet it seems as if the smartphone and tablet sales will end after Android and Apple lock up the market in 3 years. Umm, don't think so butterflys.

  • Report this Comment On March 11, 2012, at 4:21 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Well, this article should come with a definition of "winning" to begin with, as the author is obviously not even applying the standards required to run a hotdog stand...

    Apple and Samsung are winning, because they make profits (Apple a lot more, but still...). Google has still not proven that anybody gives them money, except for advertisers. Most mobile advertising income for Google still comes from iOS devices, and Android is costing Google serious money (at the current rate, they will need a decade to pay the Motorola acquisition from Android revenues, and that does not even include development, marketing, other acquisitions, etc.). Fact: Google would make more money without Android. Not my definition of "winning".

    Google+ has tons of "subscribers" (hey, it's free), but no real users (an average of less than 5 minutes per month), the Market Place does not really sell anything except free downloads and all attempts to sell books, music, video, etc ad inf have so far not resulted in a single press release celebrating one lonely milestone. Google TV is a disaster, Chromebooks are getting nowhere... Google is successful in one area only: search-powered ads. All they did after search was complete fail. And they waste all that money in areas where they are not offering anything anybody would pay for. Heck, Samsung is paying more to MS (for patents), and soon to Oracle and Apple, than Google is "winning" here.

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