* Motorola, Samsung, HTC phones selling well
* Could eat into Apple margin advantage -analyst
By Gabriel Madway
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 8 It seemed Android
smartphones was all anyone at a telecoms industry pow-wow in
California talked about this week.
After years alone in the limelight, Apple Inc's (AAPL.O)
iPhone now shares it with a slew of devices built on Google's
(GOOG.O) operating system.
At the CTIA wireless industry show in San Francisco,
Android smartphones, such as Motorola's MOT.N Droid,
Samsung's (005930.KS) Galaxy S and HTC's (2498.TW) Evo,
dominated displays and conversations.
Sales of the iPhone are still growing at a healthy clip and
its annual smartphone launches generate hype that rivals only
dream of matching. In addition, Apple could get another boost
if Verizon Wireless gets the iPhone on its network next year,
as many expect.
But Android is giving Apple a run for its money in the
consumer market, according to research data. Android was the
most popular platform among U.S. customers who bought
smartphones in the past six months, despite the launch of the
iPhone 4 in June, Nielsen reported.
"Anybody who watches it with a keen eye would be crazy to
assume that Android wouldn't gain more share than Apple over
time," Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves said.
"They've got more devices, they're going to be on more
networks across a wider spectrum of price points."
Android has effectively expanded the smartphone market,
which had been dominated by Apple in the consumer space and
Research in Motion RIM.TO in the business world.
ComScore said Android gained 6.6 percentage points of U.S.
market share from May through August, while Apple remained
essentially flat and Research in Motion -- which makes the
BlackBerry -- shed 4.1 percentage points.
ComScore put Apple's U.S. smartphone market share at 24.2
percent and Android's at 19.6 percent.
FREE TO AIR
Hargreaves said that because Android software is free for
handset makers to license, it means Apple could have a tougher
time generating higher margins on the iPhone than its rivals
can on their smartphones.
Analysts estimate Apple sold about 12 million iPhones in
the September quarter, which would translate into roughly 60
percent growth from last year.
That's despite reports of a faulty antenna on the device.
But rivals are nipping at its heels. Motorola on Tuesday
announced what it called the single largest launch of Android
devices at any one time. It also unveiled the Droid Pro, as it
aims to make inroads in the enterprise market. [ID:nN05222763]
"The Motorola phones are pretty good. The HTC phones are
pretty good," said Sterne, Agee & Leach analyst Vijay Rakesh.
But Rakesh said much of Android's growth has come because
of heavy promotion at Verizon Wireless, the biggest U.S. mobile
provider, which is owned by Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and
Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L)
Rakesh expects Android growth to slow next year if Verizon
begins to offer the iPhone, as many analysts expect.
"The only thing Verizon could push was Android. Next year,
if Apple gets on Verizon, that should slow," he said.
The developer community has also increased its support for
Android. Apple launched the craze for mobile applications when
it opened the App Store in 2008.
Apple's store now boasts more than a quarter of a million
apps for purchase. The Android Market is smaller, with more
than 80,000 apps, but can still offer its growing user base
access to many of the most popular mobile programs.
(Editing by Edwin Chan, Gary Hill)