Smart phone sales now outpace feature phones', thanks to Android, iPhone

For the first time, smart phone sales have pulled ahead of feature phone sales. Android’s still on top of the heap, but Apple’s iPhone is going strong.

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    Android share of recent acquirers flattened in 2011, according to Neilsen. Its report says Apple is now driving smart phone growth. Click the chart to zoom in.
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Two years ago, American phone habits shifted as the number of consumers owning just a cell phone outpaced, for the first time, those with just a traditional landline. Now, according to numbers released Thursday by the analytics giant Nielsen, we’ve reached another turning point. A majority of the Americans that purchased a mobile phone last quarter bought a smart phones rather than a traditional cell phone, often called a "feature phone."

The Nielsen survey revealed that 55 percent of mobile consumers who bought a new device in the past three months purchased a smart phone, compared to 46 percent last winter. Feature phones still make up the majority of the overall market, but while only 38 percent of consumers own smart phones, that number will likely continue to rise in coming months as more Americans decide to upgrade.

So which companies are benefiting the most from this growth in smart phone sales?

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According to the Nielsen poll, Apple is the primary driver. To be sure, Android activations have been off the charts (more than 500,000 per day worldwide, according to Android Senior VP Andy Rubin), and Google's mobile OS is still the leader in US smart phone sales. Android claims about 27 percent of recent activations compared with Apple's 17 percent. However, Apple’s iOS is the fast-growing mobile operating system in terms of market share. Android’s share held steady last quarter, while Apple's rose to 17 percent, up from 10 percent last quarter.

Apple recently began selling its iPhone on Verizon's network, likely causing this surge in sales.

The survey was bad news for RIM, the makers of Blackberry: while they still command 21 percent of the overall smart phone market, they claimed just 6 percent of new activations. And the fledgling Windows Phone 7 claimed a just 1 percent.

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