Android Surges Past iPhone OS in China

Motorola i1 Smartphone uses Android
Motorola i1 Smartphone uses Android

China has the largest number of mobile phone users in the world -- about 780 million. That's compared to 286 million in the U.S. While Google's (OOOG) Android OS has been a hit in America with handsets from HTC, Motorola (MOT) and others, it has still trailed other operating systems, including the iPhone OS from Apple (AAPL).

The story is different in China. New figures from AdMob show Android ahead of the Apple OS in China. The data may be useful, but probably isn't definitive. Admob, recently purchase by Google, uses its own data saying, "unique device numbers are from the AdMob network." The information still tells the story of the rise of Android. In the People's Republic, there are 882,384 Android-powered devices while Apple has 725,358 OS powered iPhones.

China isn't the only place that Android has made impressive gains. Globally the Android OS is used in 11.6 million handsets. The iPhone is in 27.4 million phones, according to AdMob. But industry experts say Apple has sold over 50 million iPhones worldwide.That means the AdMob data is imperfect. But other surveys also show Android gaining share from Apple. A recent poll by Changewave shows OS preference among those planning to buy new handsets: 28% preferred Apple and 21% would choose Android.

While the numbers seem impressive for Google, the data may be less important than it seems. Android is an open source operating system on which Google makes no money. It can be adapted by handset companies to add features, but broad adoption may not help Google's mobile aspirations at all. The firm's goals are to get its search features onto handsets and use its technology to place advertising on mobile devices.

Apple's OS, on the other hand, is part of an ecosystem meant to make the iPhone more attractive to consumers -- and to make money selling the devices. Apple's operating system is set up to accommodate buyers who want to use some of the 200,000 applications at the firm's App Store and to get the special touch and feel that has made the iPhone such a big success.

Android's adoption is good PR, but that may be all it is.