Apple 2.0

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Competitors gaining on the iPhone

April 1, 2009: 8:37 AM ET

Smartphone pie (2)Apple's (AAPL) iPhone still has what Net Applications describes as a "commanding lead" in the smartphone search market, but its competitors are gaining fast, according to preliminary data issued overnight Tuesday.

When Net Applications issued its first survey of this market last month, it reported that nearly two out of every three Web searches conducted from a mobile phone in February were made from an iPhone. As Net Applications measures it -- a big caveat (see below) -- the iPhone's share of searches dropped in March to 63.41% from 66.44%.

This does not mean that iPhone Web browsing is shrinking, the Web metrics firm notes, because the overall market is growing rapidly. (link)

But it does mean that Google's (GOOG) Android, Nokia's (NOK) Symbian and Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry -- in that order -- are catching up, although none has yet managed to grab more than a 9% share.

Android's growth is particularly striking: up 2.31 points, or 36%, in one month. (See the chart below for the full results.)

The BlackBerry, which was consigned to the catch-all "other" category in February, finally emerged in March as a line item of its own, but with only a 2.69% share.

How can the iPhone's share be so high and the BlackBerry's so low?

As we pointed out last month, the fact that it's easier to surf the Web on an iPhone is only part of the answer. A more important reason emerges from Net Applications' description of how its surveys are conducted:

"Our mobile share methodology measures share for browser capable mobile devices. This means the mobile device must be able to render HTML pages and javascript.  Visits to WAP pages are not included." (link)

WAP (for Wireless Application Protocol) was the Web browsing standard for BlackBerries and other mobile phones  –  famously dismissed by Steve Jobs as the "baby Web"  — until the iPhone came along and offered a Web browser with HTML and Javascript.

In other words, Net Applications is judging the race for mobile Web dominance using the rules set by the iPhone.

The results of the February and March surveys are summarized in the chart below. To learn more about Net Applications, click here.

March smartphone spreadsheet

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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