The Apple-Google Mobile Battle Continues As Other Platforms Sit and Watch

Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch (s aapl) may currently be the most popular mobile browsing devices in North America, but handsets using Google’s Android (s goog) operating system are quickly eroding Apple’s lead. Over the past year, Android browser share on mobiles has increased 12.2 percent and is now used by one in five mobile web users in North America, according to Quantcast, a San Francisco-based web analytics firm. While browsing is down on nearly all other platforms, Apple’s drop is the steepest, down 8.1 percent in the last 12 months. But Android’s gain can really only take a bite out of Apple as everyone else is essentially sitting on the sidelines.

Most of Android’s browser share gain in Quantcast’s data appears in the past eight months — looking at the graph, you can see the Android trend really take off in October of last year. Not so¬†coincidentally, that’s exactly when Verizon (s vz) launched the Motorola (s mot) Droid; the then-updated Android 2.0 operating system with later-added multitouch morphed Android from a platform for techies to one that most consumers could comfortably use. It also helps that U.S. Android handset sales outpaced those of Apple in the first quarter of this year and that Droid launched on the largest U.S. carrier with 92.8 million customers.

While Apple and Google aren’t the only players in the North American smartphone market, Quantcast’s data makes clear that for the moment, everyone else is an “also ran” when it comes to mobile browsing. Indeed, the numbers ought to act as a wake-up call; browsing can’t be seen as a supplemental handheld activity — mobile web usage is growing faster than desktop browsing did thanks to powerful handsets, efficient browsers, wireless broadband and Wi-Fi access. Odds are stacked against any new smartphone without a usable browser that supports multitouch capabilities, a fast JavaScript engine, simple bookmarking — perhaps even with synchronization of those bookmarks on the desktop — and support for current web standards.

Need proof? By most measures, there are more BlackBerry (s rimm) devices than iPhones or Android handsets in the U.S., yet such phones only account for around 10 percent of the mobile web consumption — easily explained by a last-generation and less capable browser. Research In Motion plans to change that with an improved browser based on WebKit, the same engine utilized by both Apple and Google for mobile web access.¬†But until it does, the mobile browser market is a clash of the titans: Apple and Google. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile share is declining and Windows Phone 7 devices aren’t expected for at least another three months. Nokia (s nok) is a worldwide leader, but isn’t competitive within the U.S. and Palm (s palm) is treading water pending its sale to HP (s hpq).

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