US cellphone scoreboard

comScore, a marketing research firm focused on communications in the digital world, just released its latest report on cellphone usage in the US.

The results:

top OEMs

Samsung    22.4% of the market

LG     21.5%

Motorola     21.2%

RIM     8.7%

Nokia     8.1%

Domination of the US market didn’t do the Korean companies much good, since their share comes almost completely from the older, less profitable “feature phone” part of the market, not the smartphone segment.  Samsung, for example, recently guided investors to expect record profits in the second quarter.  But strong memory chip demand will likely be somewhat offset by falling mobile phone results.

smartphone market share

Overall smartphone market share has almost doubled in the past year to comprise about 21% of the market. Share has grown 2.3 points over the past three months.

The leading phone operating systems are:

RIM     41.7% of the market

Apple     24.4%  (not including iPhone 4)

Microsoft     13.2%

Google     13.0%

Palm     4.8%

During the three months since the previous comScore report, Google’s Android-based phones gained a total of 4.0 percentage points of the market, taking share from all others, especially from Microsoft.  (According to other reports, Android has already surpassed Microsoft.)

cellphone  feature usage

social networking or blog     20.8% of users, up 2.6 points over the past three months

browser     39.1%,     up 2.3 points

smartphone share growth      up 2.3 points

downloaded apps     30.0%,     up 2.1 points

text message     65.2%,     up 1.4 points

music     14.3%,     up 1.4 points

games    22.5%,      up 0.7 points

This is the most interesting set of figures.  If we look at the incremental changes in smartphone market share and feature usage, it appears that the main changes in behavior are that new smartphone buyers are browsing, blogging, networking and downloading apps with their phones.

There also seems to be a network effect of two types.  First, the larger number of smartphones appears to be boosting the usage of older cellphone possibilities, like texting and playing games–though at a much slower rate than new smartphone adoption. New users also seem to be prodding existing smartphone owners to actually use their phones’ features.  Note particularly that social networking use is almost equal to smartphone ownership, and is growing faster.

investment implications

AAPL is the obvious beneficiary of smartphone trends.  The only issue I have with it is price.

I can’t work up any enthusiasm for Nokia, which has understood the smartphone phenomenon for many years but been unable to execute.  Phones are irrelevant for MSFT, other than to underscore its chronic inability to capitalize on its brand name and the dominant position it has had with consumers and businesses in the PC arena for twenty years.  RIMM’s strong business franchise is a plus for it, but the company is still a question mark in its ability to keep pace with AAPL.

Another investment avenue is the network operators.  The best is VZN, I think, but to get its share of the wireless joint venture with Vodafone you have to accept a piece of its fixed-line and cable/internet arm.  No thank you.

Absent pure social networking stocks on Wall Street, the last approach is through component manufacturers.  The strongest of these is Samsung Electronics, in my opinion.  The company is a superb manufacturer, so it’s also possible it will be able to follow HTC of Taiwan in producing attractive smartphones.  Both Samsung and HTC trade in quirky markets that are not for the faint of heart, however.  So this may be one case where the best investment is just to buy a smartphone (I own an Android) and enjoy it.

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