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Apple's Smartphone Market Share Grows As Android Stalls Out

giant phoneThe U.S. cellphone market has just turned a very significant corner, ccording to Nielsen: The majority of new phones being sold are, for the first time, smartphones. And while Google's Android still leads in raw numbers of recent purchases of smartphones, it's actually Apple's market share that's been growing in recent months...despite Apple not having a new handset to lure customers.

Nielsen's research indicates that 55% of U.S. consumers surveyed bought a smartphone rather than a featurephone or dumbphone over the last three months. That's up from 34% a year ago, and it's proof positive that the smartphone revolution we all knew was coming has actually arrived. Because of long handset lifespans, the ratio's not reflected in overall ownership yet—just 38% of consumers own a smartphone—but it won't be long.

For the March-May 2011 period, Android held onto the big chunk with 38% of the market. Apple came in second with 27%, and RIM pulled in third with 21%. Struggling Nokia barely made a showing at all, snagging a mere 2% of Symbian phones and a worryingly small 1% for Windows Phone 7.

On its face, this sounds like great news for Google, except it's not quite as simple as that. The growth of Android's U.S. market share has stagnated over the last three months, with its share of recent acquirers fixed at about 27%. This is despite a rash of new Android devices hitting the market with ever-higher specs. Meanwhile, Apple's recent sales share has jumped by 70%—from a 10% sales share to 17% over the same period, even though Apple hasn't significantly refreshed its iPhone lineup, although sales of Verizon handsets are certainly playing a part here.

Which means "Apple is now driving smartphone growth," to quote Nielsen's survey. And that's significant because it highlights the power Apple holds over this key—and rapidly growing—market that defines the future of the U.S. cellphone industry. It also tells us two more things: Apple is going to be making a lot of money from the iPhone (new Asymco data says that the average iOS user is worth $150 per year to Apple, which relates into billions in revenue) and that when the iPhone 5 hits in a couple of months, Apple's smartphone market share actually stands a chance at overtaking Android's.

[Image: Flickr user daryl_mitchell]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.