Time for our quarterly update on the “No Duh, Sherlock” statement of the year: Android is the most popular smartphone operating system. This time, it’s Nielsen sending third quarter stats for 2011, saying that 43 percent of people it polled report owning a smartphone. Of those smartphone users, a mirror-like 43 percent report owning an Android device.

We’ve covered this ground dozens of times, so you already know that the Android onslaught of producing so many choices on every major carrier – and even budget and smaller, regional carriers – has allowed it to quickly outgrow and outpace rivals. Apple’s iOS holds 28 percent of the market, RIM BlackBerry 18 percent, Windows Phone 7 7 percent, and other making up 4 percent. We expect to see a different scenario next quarter once a full sales period of iPhone on every major carrier except T-Mobile could leads to a big shift.

The real meat from Nielsen’s story this time around is that the feature phone vs smartphone gap continues to shrink. At the beginning of the year, 70 percent of Nielsen respondents had feature phones, but that number has fallen to 57 percent. Looking at an age breakdown of smartphone penetration, we see that younger consumers are opting for smartphones at a rate much quicker than older generations. In the recent quarter, 62 percent of consumers 25-34 report owning a smartphone.The number is about 54 percent for users 18-24 and 35-44.

Smartphones will become the dominant device in early-to-mid 2012, so people should stop focusing on whether Android can convert iPhone or iPhone can convert BlackBerry. The competition is rooted in the next generation of smartphone buyers, so the question is can Android convert feature phone user to make a Droid Razr or HTC Sensation his first smartphone?

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