Only Now Are We About To See The Real Battle Between iPhone And Android

Apple’s iPhone war against Google Android was the big story in tech last year, with Android growing like a weed to beat Apple in U.S. market share.

But in reality, we haven’t actually seen a real competition between the iPhone and Android yet.

That is going to change now that Verizon will start selling the iPhone next month, and now that AT&T is going to start offering more Android devices.

And by the end of the year, we will have a much better sense of which phones people like better — at both major carriers.

The reason it hasn’t been a real competition so far is because the distribution mechanics of the mobile industry — subsidies and long-term contracts — favour carriers over mobile platforms.

People are much more likely to buy the best smartphone available at their carrier than they are to switch carriers for a specific phone.

Even in the case of the iPhone, which was the best smartphone in the world for several years, AT&T still never sold a majority of iPhones to people who were not already AT&T subscribers. (Even though the majority of Americans are not AT&T customers.) Not even in the early days, before all the Apple fans had already jumped to AT&T.

Likewise, Google’s success with Android has come largely while NOT actually competing with the iPhone within any carrier’s lineup. According to comScore, almost 94% of U.S. Android devices in use late last year were at carriers that do not offer the iPhone — Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

But now Verizon is going to offer both the iPhone and its Droid lineup, and AT&T is going to offer both the iPhone and an expanded Android lineup. So by the end of 2011, we’ll have a better idea of what consumers prefer.

Smartphone platform share iPhone Android by carrier AT&T Verizon

comScore data, Business Insider chart

Technically, AT&T already offers both Apple and Android devices, and Apple is stomping Android. According to comScore, 63% of AT&T’s smartphone customers use the iPhone, while just 4% use Android (in the “other” category in our chart).

But AT&T’s Android lineup has been limited — nothing near as good as Verizon’s Droid lineup — so it’s not yet a fair comparison. At CES, AT&T announced it would offer many more Android devices this year, so we’ll see how that changes.

Meanwhile, at Verizon, Android has actually been more harmful to RIM than anyone else

At Verizon, RIM’s share of smartphones in use dropped to 45% near the end of 2010, down from about 70% near the end of 2009, according to comScore. Meanwhile, Android became 44% of Verizon’s smartphone base at the end of last year, up from 2% at the end of 2009, according to comScore.

At AT&T, RIM remains about 20% of the carrier’s smartphone base, flat year-over-year, according to comScore. So neither the iPhone nor Android did much to the BlackBerry there last year.

Read: 10 Things Apple Must Do Now That It Has Announced The Verizon iPhone

SAI chart Android by carrier

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