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iPhone Overtaking Nokia Worldwide

Nokia has lost its overall market share leadership in the worldwide smartphone segment to Apple, based on browser calls for mobile ads.

Why is mobile ad share important? Because in the smartphone segment, the tail wags the dog -- apps drive customer loyalty more than hardware features -- and Gartner noted in its most recent report on the smartphone market that "services and applications are now instrumental to smartphones' success." That report, reflecting first quarter 2009 figures, had Nokia still firmly in the lead. But according to numbers from mobile ad service vendor AdMob, Apple smartphones received 49 percent of ad traffic in May, compared with 32 percent for Nokia. Yes, Apple offers many more apps, and yes, it's more geared to consumers than Nokia. But the telltale sign that this metric reflects the overall market is that in January, Nokia had a 43 percent share of AdMob's market, and Apple was at 32 percent, roughly equivalent to Gartner's Q1 numbers.

App developers couldn't be happier with Apple's frictionless system and huge customer base, which of course feeds a virtuous cycle of more apps for the App Store leading to more customers for Apple's iPhone. William Volk, CEO of entertainment and business apps vendor PlayScreen, said on a professional forum posting that "Apple had the advantage of the years of experience with iTunes and their iPods PLUS their own acceptable billing solution and that has served them well." PlayScreen makes apps for Android and the Symbian S60, and is preparing over 25 apps for the Pre, Volk told me.

Volk also told me that "other stores simply aren't matching the ARPUs [average revenue per user] of the Apple App store."

Another data point in the May numbers that caught my eye is that the iPhone OS and, to a limited extent, Android, are gaining market share at the expense of every other mobile operating system, including Symbian, Research in Motion (RIM), Palm and Windows.

The numbers for U.S. market share in May are even more striking: the iPhone OS represents a whopping 68 percent of browser requests, followed by RIM at 13 percent, Android at seven percent, Windows at six percent and Palm's WebOS at three percent. (Another fascinating point is that Android was at three percent in April.)

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