Apple, Google retain smartphone lead; Uphill battle for RIM, Microsoft and Nokia

Nielsen's latest smartphone 'state of the union' is in. While Android and Apple beat the trousers off RIM, Nokia and Microsoft continue to struggle.

Nielsen data out today shows that more than ever, the U.S. smartphone market is undoubtedly a two-horse race between Google's Android mobile operating system, and Apple's iPhone ecosystem.

Over the past nine months, Android continues to dominate the smartphone operating system market with a 43 percent share, while Apple holds on as the lead hardware manufacturer with a 29 percent stake.

During the last three months between August and October, however, Android jumped a whole percentage point and more, from 43 percent to 44.2 percent. Between July and September, Apple only achieved half that, notching up from 28 percent to 28.6 percent.

But the BlackBerry maker, Nokia and Microsoft struggled in the face of high competition.

Research in Motion took a knock of three percentage points, while Microsoft's share is merely a blip on the radar at just over 6 percent. Nokia, though not in the business of making smartphones per se, though currently finding its feet after its 'dumbphone' to smartphone cultural shift, still holds 1.7 percent of the smartphone market.

The figures show that 44 percent of the U.S. market owns a smartphone, yet suggests a holiday season or a strong first-quarter to help push it towards the majority mark. Also worth noting is that 56 percent of all new buyers in the past three months chose a smartphone. Should this trend continue, first-quarter results could show that the majority of Americans could own a smartphone.

Interestingly, however, with the run up to the Nokia Lumia launch in the United States, which won't come until 2012 at the earliest, this could push Nokia's share significantly higher. Considering the Lumia appears to be doing well in the UK -- one of the regions the smartphone was released in, Nokia hopes that positive reviews will float across the pond and reflect in first-quarter sales reports.

As the Lumia is powered by the Windows Phone operating system, where the Nokia Lumia succeeds, so will Microsoft.