iPhone, Android phones trump feature phones in recent sales

It won’t be long before most phones will be smartphones, which are outselling feature phones in recent sales, according to new figures from Nielsen (s nlsn). The firm said smartphones made up 55 percent of recent phone acquisitions in May 2011 in the U.S., pushing past feature phones for the first time.

The numbers, which count people who bought a phone in the last three months, are up from 34 percent a year ago and reinforce similar findings from NPD. Together, they further confirm that the rise of smartphones is certain and is still on pace to eclipse feature phones in overall marketshare this year. Nielsen said smartphones account for 38 percent of the market right now.

Verizon + iPhone = Sales

The growth of smartphones in recent sales was driven by the iPhone (s AAPL), which arrived on Verizon (s vz) in January and went from accounting for 10 percent of recent sales in February to 17 percent in May. Meanwhile, among recent acquisitions, Android (s GOOG) remained at 27 percent from February to May.

That follows other reports that Android’s marketshare gains have slowed with the expanded distribution of the iPhone. Whether that continues could depend on how many more carriers Apple partners with and whether it introduces cheaper handsets to compete with Google’s army of Android devices.

RIM’s Painful Transition

One company that isn’t enjoying this fight is RIM (s RIMM), which saw its share of recent acquisitions fall from 11 percent in February to 6 percent in May. That kind of tumble places more pressure on the company as it struggles though a painful transition period shifting from the old BlackBerry OS to QNX for its smartphones. Even with the promise of new phones later this year, RIM is under the gun to gain back users who are finding more to like among Android and iPhone choices.