Android's Destiny: the iPad's Path?

It's conventional wisdom that Google's Android mobile OS is the smartphone-and-tablet platform that has the greatest chance of catching fire as the iPhone did. And there's evidence that Android is in f

act catching fire as multiple Android devices gain traction among users.

For example, although Apple continues to dominate the worldwide and U.S. mobile handset markets with its iPhone and iPod Touch devices, makers of Android phones are gaining ground, according to the latest research out of AdMob, a mobile advertising network in the process of being acquired by Google. AdMob bases its stats on requests for access to the 18,000-plus Websites and applications in its network.

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Android's swarm of devices power increased adoption

HTC's Dream and Magic smartphones accounted for almost all traffic from Android devices seven months ago, but now 11 different devices share in most of that traffic. Google said in March that there were 34 Android devices on the market from 12 manufacturers, says AdMob.

AdMob's traffic survey finds that HTC isn't hurting overall, with its phones generating 43 percent of traffic, second only to Motorola's 44 percent share in March, fueled largely by use of the Droid and Cliq phones. And HTC isn't sitting still, recently announcing with Sprint the EVO 4G Android smartphone, due for release this summer.

Also read: 7 Android devices that aren't phones

Android traffic has exploded over the past year, according to AdMob, with a 32 percent compound monthly growth rate.

One Android smartphone that hasn't gotten out of the blocks very quickly is Google's own Nexus One, which AdMob pegged as having only 2 percent of the traffic in March. By comparison, the Motorola Droid led the pack with 32 percent of worldwide traffic and was the top device in the United States.

Android devices still have plenty of catching up to do with products from Apple, whose CEO recently suggested people looking for porn apps could buy themselves Android phones for the task. Apple iPhone and iPod Touches combined for 37 percent of worldwide traffic, with the Motorola Droid next at 4 percent (rankings were the same in the United States).

The Android versus Apple mobile device race could become even more interesting if, as rumored, Google delivers an Android tablet that would put it into competition with Apple and its iPad.

Meanwhile, one other possible challenge for Android versus iPhone is that while Apple's operating systems for its smartphones and mobile devices are generally available even for its older products, the Android market is pretty fragmented when it comes to which OS is being used on smartphones. AdMob found the breakdown to be Android 1.5 (38 percent), Android 2.0/2.1 (35 percent), and Android 1.6 (26 percent).

Also read: 5 iPhone apps for managing your money

iPhone Traffic Levels Out, But Newer OS Versions Emerge

Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch accounted for 37 percent of worldwide device share in March based on traffic, and that's down from 40 percent in both January and February, back to about the same level as in December. The share dropped from 43 percent to 38 percent in the United States.

Meanwhile, Motorola inched up in the United States on the strength of its Android-powered Droid smartphone, and Nokia showed growth worldwide, based on use of such devices as the N70.

AdMob also took a look at which versions of Apple's iPhone OS are most used and found that most customers don't just sit on their old software, since Apple makes most of its software backward-compatible. The two newest versions of the iPhone OS, 3.1.2 and 3.1.3, added up to 86 percent of traffic (Apple recently previewed version 4.0, which surprised with its supply of enterprise-friendly features).

iPhone 3G S device traffic share jumped 30 percent from September to March, whereas the first generation devices accounted for just 2 percent of the traffic. The 4G device hasn't yet hit the market, though it has generated plenty of buzz because of the wild Gizmodo situation involving a lost prototype.

But the iPod Touch hasn't shown the same trend to fast upgrades. The second-generation iPod Touch generated more than twice as much traffic as the third-generation product, released in September.

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