Call it the oligarchy of the smartphone.
As of the fourth quarter of last year, 91% of the smartphones sold in the U.S. ran software controlled by either Apple Inc.or Google Inc., according to research from NPD Group. The rest were left out in the cold.
The widening gap between the Apple/Android stratum and everyone else -- call them the 9%-ers -- shows that when it comes to flavors of popular smartphones, the industry is becoming a two-horse race.
In the holiday-season quarter, BlackBerry-makerResearch in Motion Ltd.(RIM) accounted for a mere 5% of the smartphones sold, a precipitous drop from the same quarter last year, when RIM still accounted for 19% of phones sold -- which at that point was enough to tie the Canadian phone maker with second-place Apple. Apple now holds 43% of that market, according to NPD, while Android phones lead with 48%.
Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and older Windows Mobile phones make up the remaining 4%. Many of those devices are made by Nokia, a Microsoft partner that has so far been losing money with its new generation of Windows-based phones. A new one, the Lumia 900, may hit stores as soon as March.
Meanwhile, whereas the "other" category once included phones made by Palm -- the now-defunct HP subsidiary -- that competitor has disappeared altogether.
Apple's iPhone 4S, the 2010-model iPhone 4, and the 2009 iPhone 3GS were the three top-selling U.S. smartphones during the quarter, showing that consumers can be satisfied with older phones if the price is right.
Rounding out the top five were two Android phones from Samsung Electronics, the Galaxy S II
and Galaxy S 4G. Unike Apple, which is the sole maker of the iPhone, dozens of different manufacturers make Android devices, including HTC Corp., LG, Motorola and others.
But many Android phones have a similar look and feel, and rely on the same underlying Google operating system software. That's why many observers consider that the smartphone industry is now dominated by a small number of successful companies that fall on one of two fortunate sides: Apple or Android.
Everyone else will have to pitch a tent and see what happens.