U.S. smartphone market a tightening 3-way race

BlackBerry, Android, iPhone dominate with combined 84.5% of subscribers

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The latest mobile OS data from analytics firm comScore have to be sobering for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.

As reported by IDG News Service, RIM smartphones lost more than 4 percent market share in two months, from September to November. RIM retains the market lead with 33.5 percent of all U.S. smartphone subscribers in November, but Google's Android mobile OS, which has little more than half of RIM's market share in September, is closing in fast.

(Also see: Android eating RIM's lunch in smartphone OS market)

Android's share of the mobile OS market jumped in November to 26.0 percent from 19.6 percent two months prior. Not to get percentage-crazy, but that's a 33 percent increase in Android's market share.

Meanwhile, Apple's iPhone gained nearly a percentage point to 25.0 percent in November from 24.2 percent in September, when it was No. 2 to RIM's 37.6 percent U.S. market share.

This has been coming for awhile, so it's no surprise. But the problem for RIM is that when a product's market share falls too far and too fast, perceptions change. They don't want to end up like Microsoft (9.0 percent market share) or Palm (3.9 percent). I'm not suggesting that fate is imminent for RIM, but it is inevitable if Apple and Google continue to execute and RIM can't respond.

It's not likely that December numbers are going to be much better for RIM. It's conceivable that Android could surpass the BlackBerry OS when comScore's next market data come out. Beyond that, the first quarter will be interesting because Verizon will begin selling the iPhone, and the good reviews and rollout of RIM's PlayBook tablet could provide a brand boost for the BlackBerry.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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