New study results from research firm Nielsen suggest that the runaway freight train that is Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system may have slowed down, bringing Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and Research In Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry into a steady split of the smartphone OS market.
According to a story from CNN Money, Nielsen is reporting that Android’s forward momentum has finally plateaued, leaving the operating system with the same slice of the operating system pie in April as it had in March: 36 percent in the latter month, and 37 percent in the earlier. That’s a big portion of the market, considering that according to Nielsen, smartphones now make up about 37 percent of all mobile phones in the U.S.
In fact, Android hasn’t really gained much ground for three months now. It hit the 36 percent level in February and has stayed steady there until April, after rocketing up from 15 percent in June 2010 to its current state in less than a year.
Meanwhile, even though Android isn’t taking any more market share from other companies, neither Apple nor RIM is making much forward progress, either. Apple hangs at 26 percent, within a few points of where it was about a year ago. It dipped to about 19 percent not long ago, but any downward fluctuations don’t seem to be holding steady.
In fact, even RIM’s decline seems to have steadied. The BlackBerry maker’s portion of the market has been slowly but steadily declining for the last year, but Nielsen’s data shows it steady at about 22 or 23 percent of the market.
The Nielsen data also revealed some interesting things about differences between Apple and Google smartphone users. Apple users tend to download and pay for more mobile apps than their Android counterparts, but according to Nielsen’s analysis of 65,000 cellphone bills, Android users consume a lot more mobile data usage. The analysis found that Android users consume almost 100 megabytes more data than iPhone users do: 582MB of data each month, compared to 492MB.
While smartphone shares might be leveling off in the U.S., the real battle might be happening in other markets anyway. Both Apple and Google are putting significant firepower behind their expansions into China: Android is gaining significant ground there, and the Apple is in talks to add the CDMA version of its iPhone 4 to a new mobile carrier there.
Either way, if Nielsen’s data holds, it’ll probably take another big move on the parts of either Apple or Android to end the stalemate. That might not happen this year, the way things seem to be developing – rumor has it, Apple is releasing an incremental update to the iPhone called the iPhone 4S, rather than a full-on redesign. And it might not be coming out until September, which gives Google more time to mount an offense.
We’ll know more in about a week when Apple kicks off its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, and makes at least some of its plans known.