Remember when portable phones used to do just that – phone? As in, you made and received calls and actually spoke to another person or left a message?

Remember when portable phones used to do just that – phone? As in, you made and received calls and actually spoke to another person or left a message? But suddenly, we began leading such hectic, busy lives we needed our phones to be “smart.” Smart enough to send email messages when we really don’t want to actually talk to our colleagues or clients. Smart enough to surf the web for us when we’re too impatient to wait until we get to a desktop computer.

A smartphone is a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a basic feature phone. While both may be thought of as handheld computers, I think feature phones were great when we were content with just avoiding conversations with our husbands, wives or BFFs and could gleefully get by with texting. And for some, the ability to place and receive calls and texts is plenty. After all, not everyone wants a phone that does. Smartphones give us the capability of systematically avoiding – um, I mean, connecting – with scores of people all at once! And smartphones, simply put, rule.

That’s according to the latest data from The Nielsen Company. A recent Nielsen study shows that 45 percent of phone customers chose a smartphone over a feature phone. And it’s these kinds of numbers that are fueling the race for the lead in U.S. smartphone operating system consumer market share (the percentage of total sales a company or brand controls in a category). In the smartphone category the race is tighter than it has ever been between all three smartphone OS leaders – Apple, RIM Blackberry and Google Android.

Nielsen data shows the popularity of the Android among those who purchased a smartphone in the last six months (40 percent) makes it the leading choice among recent acquirers. But despite its surge among recent acquirers, when it comes to overall consumer market share, Android (25.8 percent) is still behind Apple (28.6 percent). RIM Blackberry’s position is less clear: Its share (26.1 percent) puts it within the margin of error of both Apple and Android (that’s statistic speak for a dead heat tie).

This much is clear, however: All three smartphone leaders are benefitting from strong demand. Feature phone owners planning to get a smartphone are less likely to have made up their mind about the smartphone they will choose: 25 percent were “not sure” what their next desired OS might be compared to 13 percent of current smartphone owners. Those over 55 were markedly less certain than younger mobile users, with 27.8 saying they weren’t sure what kind of device they wanted next, compared to 12.2 percent of those 18 to 24.

When you work for a company that globally tracks, measures and analyzes trends and consumer behavior, you’re expected to be familiar with the latest technology. It helps that that I receive complimentary state-of-the art devices to help with this familiarization process. I too used to simply be content with texting and calling. I even readily admitted in this column that when I first received my iPhone4 I was so intimated by it that it lived in its box for almost a year before I gave it a whirl. Now? I can’t imagine life without it.

My devotion to a smartphone and all of its wondrous applications runs deep. From meeting planning, nail color selection to closet organizing, my phone does it all. It even helped me translate English to French and to navigate my way around Paris over the holidays.

There is, in fact, an app for pretty much everything; thus the appeal of smartphones. I’m enthusiastically using the Weight Watchers App to help me track points with my New Year’s Resolution to drop 30 pounds (for real this time; if Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I, she’s my weight loss idol). But you must remember that you, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, are fueling the race for the lead in the U.S. smartphone competition. The communications technology companies want your loyalty and your hard earned dollars. You have the power. Use it smartly.

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president for The Neilsen Company.

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