New smartphone subscribers choosing Android handsets accounted for 27% of U.S. smartphone sales in the first half of the year, surpassing the 23% share held by Apple’s wildly popular phones, the Nielsen Company said Monday.

The report is the latest indication that Google’s smartphone software, which powers handsets made by device makers such as Motorola Inc. and HTC Corp., continues to gain momentum in the most critical segment of the mobile market.

Research In Motion Ltd.’s (RIMM) BlackBerry handset continues to top the category with 33%, but its share has been slipping as consumers seem to prefer the larger number of apps and superior browsing experience on Android and Apple phones.

The Canadian device handset maker is widely expected on Tuesday to unveil a series of new devices built with a new operating system it hopes will reverse the trend.

Nielsen said sales of multipurpose smartphones, which let users browse the Web, check email, share pictures and run thousands of apps, accounted for 25% of the U.S. mobile market in the last quarter. The research group predicted smartphones will overtake feature phones in the U.S. market by the end of 2011.

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