Is Google's (GOOG) Android platform the long-awaited iPhone-killer? Not yet, but new data shows Android poses a growing threat to Apple's (AAPL) wildly popular smartphone. According to mobile research firm Flurry, Verizon Wireless's Android-powered Droid device outsold Apple's original iPhone during the first 74 days each device was on sale.

After launching on November 5th last year, Verizon's Droid sold 1.05 million units, slightly higher than the 1 million iPhones that were sold when it went on sale June 29th, 2007, Flurry said. Google's branded Android phone, the Nexus One, has seen only modest sales of 135,000 in its first 74 days.

That could change. On Tuesday, Google began selling a version of its Nexus One phone on AT&T's (T) 3G network -- the same network the iPhone runs on.



Lessons in Loyalty

There are some caveats to keep in mind when comparing iPhone and Droid sales, says Flurry. When it launched the Droid, Verizon had a substantially larger network than AT&T did when it launched the iPhone (89 million vs. 63.7 million.) Verizon also released the Droid during the holiday season. (The firm used 74 days as a benchmark because that's how long it took the iPhone to reach 1 million units sold, according to Apple.)

Those factors aside, early sales figures bode well for Android's competitive prospects against the iPhone. Meanwhile, another new survey suggests that users of Research In Motion's (RIMM) Blackberry -- the top-selling smartphone -- would consider switching to either an iPhone or an Android phone.

"Nearly 40% of Blackberry users continue to prefer Apple's iPhone as their next smartphone purchase, but a third of them would also switch to the Android operating system," according to a survey by audience research firm Crowd Science. The survey also found "Android users rivaling iPhone users in loyalty, with about 90% of each user group planning to stick with their current brand when buying their next phone."

Nexus One Is Not the Flop That It Appears to Be

Some pundits are using the latest data to declare Nexus One a flop -- but they've completely missed the point. It's not fair to compare sales of the Nexus One to the Droid or the iPhone because Google has been selling the Nexus One exclusively online -- and without the substantial public relations muscle that powered the other two launches. Moreover, Google has made it clear that the Nexus One represents an experiment in web-based phone sales, as well as a kind of prototype that Android developers should aspire to.

Google's "job is not necessarily to sell 10 million" units of the Nexus One, Carl Howe, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston, told Bloomberg. "Their job is basically to signal to the market where they want their platform to go." The Nexus One received a boost Tuesday, after Google announced that it would begin selling a version compatible with AT&T's 3G network.

All told, the data reinforces the idea that the Nexus One is a prototype, while the Droid and other Android-powered phones represent Google's true gambit. "For Android to make progress faster, from a sales perspective, it needs more Droids and fewer Nexus Ones going forward," Flurry said.

Of course, there is a contrarian view. "We assume that Google rolls out a second Nexus handset, markets it more aggressively, and makes it available offline, and therefore forecast that Google sells 2 million handsets per year in 2011 and future years," Goldman Sachs said in a recent research note cited by Android Central.

No matter how it all plays out, the recent data confirms what we already know: we've entered the golden age of mobile devices, and competition is reaching a fever pitch. The name of the game now is killer devices, service provider support and developer enthusiasm. Apple got a two year jump on the competition, but Google is demonstrating that while it may be late to the game, it's aiming to be a formidable competitor.

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