December 1, 2010 at 11:34 am

To Find the Best Smartphone, Follow the Herd

Choosing the right smartphone isn’t entirely about figuring out which model you personally would like to own; it also depends on which models every other Tom, Dick and Harry settles on.

The reason for this is simple: With nearly ten smartphone operating systems competing for your dollar, the app developers who make these phones so desirable in the first place simply don’t have the time to rebuild their apps over and over again for each mobile platform — after all, they’re trying to build new features, too. For instance, you could decide that Nokia’s Symbian is the best smartphone operating system in the world — but unless many others agree, you’ll find yourself starved of apps that are available on the more popular platforms.

This is what makes Neilsen’s “Most Desired” smartphone report so interesting. It found that in the month of October, Apple iPhone (27.9 percent market share) and RIM Blackberry (27.4 percent) are neck-and-neck in the race to gobble up the most U.S. smartphone users, with Android lagging behind both of those platforms with 22.7 percent. The “big three” (Apple, Google, RIM) constitute a whopping 78 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, leaving Microsoft, Palm and Nokia to fight over the remaining scraps (see chart above).

Judging from those statistics, it would appear that if you want to go where the crowd is going in order to ensure the best selection of apps in the future, you should choose an iPhone or Blackberry and leave Android alone. But Android is rising.

When Neilsen polled Americans about which smartphone they planned to purchase next, Apple’s iPhone still led with 30 percent, but Android crushed Blackberry 28 percent to 13 percent — a big switch from those October percentages. A full 19 percent of people in the market for a smartphone don’t know which one to choose, which means that more people don’t know what they want, than know they want a Blackberry — not a good sign for that platform:

One can only put so much stock in these snapshots of the marketplace, but this report has a fairly clear conclusion: smart smartphone shoppers who want a decent selection of apps should stick with iPhone or Android, because that’s where most other people are headed.

Neilsen also found that people who already own smartphones are more likely to buy iPhones — possibly because they have already invested so much in iPhone apps — while people who are starting fresh, who have yet to purchase their first smartphone or smartphone app, lean towards Android. Judging from that, the “smartphone lock-in” effect (that keeps people tied to an OS they have already bought apps for) is real, making this buying decision that much more important:

(Neilsen and others refer to regular, non-smart phones as “featurephones.”)

Finally, the report found that insofar as gender determines smartphone preference, men are from Android and women are from iPhone: