Google's (GOOG) Android smartphone U.S. market share deeply trails that of market leaders Research in Motion (RIMM) and Apple (AAPL). But beware the robot's wiles: Google is making steady progress in getting Android into more handsets, according to new data from comScore and AdMob.Google more than doubled Android's still-small slice of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2009, claiming 5.2% compared to 2.5% in the third quarter, according to comScore. That puts Android within hailing distance of Palm's fourth-quarter U.S. market share of 6.1%, which is down from 8.3% in the previous quarter. ComScore puts Apple in second place with 25.3% (up from 24.1%) and RIMM still in first place with 41.6% (but down from 42.6%).

Aggressive promotion by Google's carrier and hardware partners, including T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Motorola (MOT) and HTC have all helped boost the mobile operating system's popularity. Google's own Nexus One handset has created new business, too, drawing a wave of interest and media attention when it was launched in January.

Dramatic Global Growth

Android's growing presence has also been noted by Google acquisition target AdMob, which serves ads for more than 15,000 mobile websites and applications around the world. Although the company's data largely reflects mobile Web and application usage rather than unique devices, it shows Android's user base growing both larger and more active during 2009.

Worldwide, Android has secured as much as 16% of the smartphone market, by AdMob's count. That puts its hot on the heels of the Nokia (NOK)-sponsored Symbian OS which claims 21% of market, as AdMob measures it, but still far behind the iPhone OS's 51% slice of the pie.

AdMob's December mobile metrics report also showed that traffic to the company's ad servers from Android phones grew dramatically over the last year in North America and Western Europe, from just 1% of overall smartphone traffic logged by AdMob during the fourth-quarter 2008 to 16% of the overall traffic logged during the comparable quarter in 2009.

AdMob says Android phones also generated more than a quarter of mobile ad requests from North American smartphones during 2009's fourth quarter. In Western Europe, Android's share is 8%.

Android Users Are Active

The success of mobile ads could turn out to be a particularly good metric for Google, for which "the whole mobile strategy is built on building and accelerating an ecosystem," according to Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer.

That's a big part of why Google is acquiring AdMob, a $750 million transaction still subject to regulatory approval.

"Consumers that have Android devices ... use it 30 times more than a typical handset. In consequence, they do a lot more searching, and there are a lot more advertising opportunities," Pichette told investors during the company's fourth-quarter 2009 earnings call.

Still, no matter how precocious, Google's Android still has a lot of catching up to do before it truly rivals Apple and RIM.

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