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Summary:

2010 was the year of Android. That’s according to research firm Canalys, which reports that Google’s operating system eclipsed Symbian in the fourth quarter to become the top smartphone OS in the world by shipments. It caps a huge year of growth for Android.

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2010 was the year of Android when it comes to smartphones. That’s according to research firm Canalys, which reports Google’s operating system eclipsed Symbian in the fourth quarter to become the top smartphone OS in the world by shipments. Android’s share of the smartphone market jumped from 8.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 32.9 percent in the fourth quarter last year, nudging past Symbian, which slipped from 44.4 percent to 30.6 percent over the same period.

The numbers confirm Android’s ascendency and are somewhat predictable considering the fast growth of Android, which we’ve followed since last year. But overall, the entire smartphone market grew by 89 percent year over year, with all the major players except Microsoft growing their shipment numbers. The explosion of smartphones — Canalys said just under 300 million units were shipped last year — means opportunities across the industry and potentially more shifts to come. Still, the latest Canalys numbers represent a major milestone for the Android platform, which only launched in October of 2008. Since that time, it has bested pioneers and stalwarts such as Symbian, BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone 7 and iOS.

This doesn’t mean the game is over. Apple is now ramping up production of CDMA iPhones, which should goose sales, especially in the U.S. with Verizon. Microsoft recently got underway with its mobile reinvention by launching Windows Phone 7, which should command more sales in the future. HP is poised to unleash a new slate of webOS phones and tablets and could become a player. RIM, meanwhile, has struggled, but is migrating its platform to its QNX-based OS, which looked promising in our PlayBook hands-on video and could give the company new life. Nokia is also pinning its hopes on newer versions of Symbian along with MeeGo, both of which will be tied together through the cross-platform Qt framework. And with smartphones still less than half of all cell phone sales, it means there’s still time for jockeying and growth among the existing players.

But at this moment, Android’s trajectory seems the most promising. With so many form factors and so many carriers and manufacturers supporting it, the platform shows no sign of let-up. Android was the top OS in the U.S., with 12.1 million units shipped. But its growth in Asia shows why Android has been such a fast riser: Android shipments in Japan topped 1.4 million over the past year, while Android growth in China, particularly from handsets by Samsung and Huawei, has chipped away Nokia’s market share there from 76 percent down to 56 percent. With cheap Android phones expected to flood the market, it will only drive more units of Android phones. That may be why Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop is considering a new strategy that may mean using Android or possibly Windows Phone 7 on upcoming phones, something my colleague Kevin suggested back in July of last year.

All the focus on operating systems obscures the fact that Nokia still remains the largest manufacturer of smartphones. IDC also confirms that Nokia remains the largest cell phone manufacturer overall, with a 30.8 percent market share in the fourth quarter. But as smartphones account for a larger piece of the cell phone pie, manufacturers using Android appear to be benefiting. IDC said Samsung grew its shipments by 17.3 percent in the fourth quarter while low-cost Chinese manufacturer ZTE, which sells cheap Android phones in its lineup, grew shipments by 76.8 percent. ZTE also jumped into the world’s top five manufacturers, dropping RIM out of the top five.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d):

  1. I didnt see that coming …
    Even if 25 million verizon customers go to iPhone, Android will still be leading the way in global mobile sales.

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  2. [...] Android Wrests Top Smartphone OS Title From Symbian (gigaom.com) [...]

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  3. The game is over. AT&T will sell far more Androids than Verizon will sell iPhones. Also, Verizon’s Android sales is going to be ramped up even further.

    Also, consider these numbers a worldwide numbers. In these worldwide numbers, Android is selling 2x faster than the iPhone. If you look US sales only, Android is selling something like 4x faster than the iPhone.

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    1. Android was already selling 2x faster than the iPhone in Q3 2010 if you look at the USA sales alone.

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  4. Happy Days! Android is the awesome sauce! I love my Nexus S.

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  5. As a recent switcher from an iPhone 3G to a pre-paid Android 2.1 handset from Virgin Mobile, I can see why the Android is gaining marketshare. It’s price of service – Apple never wants to compete for market share, but is in the game of maximizing its profits. In other words, I would never get an Android phone, if I could get the iPhone at the same price with the same contract commitment. But $25/month with no contract beats out $75+/month with a 2 year contract, enough so that I’m willing to deal with an Android handset.

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  6. Android users are FAT GEEKS Monday, January 31, 2011

    Android market share increases. Google’s revenue = ZERO

    Google’s barely earning any revenue from Android. no wonder their stock price is stuck in the $600 range.

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    1. Android market share increases, Google’s revenue = $ Billions extra.

      Look at their mobile advertising revenue, it’s exploding. This means upwards several hundred million new users to register for new Google accounts each year, which they then can also monetize on the PC. You don’t think Google is making a bunch of money?

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  7. This article is entirely misleading and the headline is simply false. OMS and Tapas are, quite simply, not Android.

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    1. China Mobile’s O-Droid is 100% Android based. So is Tapas totally based on Android’s open source.

      That is the exact advantage of Android, it’s open source and can be customized and improved by anyone in the industry.

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      1. Yes, but these “forks” (and I assume you mean OPhone, not O-Droid) aren’t based on Android’s closed source, of which there is quite a bit, so it’s entirely disingenuous to pretend they are Android, or count them in the “Android marketshare”. And, even for the open source parts of Android (which are the least important to Google) it would be like counting Ubuntu installs as Debian, which would be entirely misrepresentative.

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    2. 100% of Android Gingerbread source code is OPEN SOURCE.

      Arguing that forks of Android based on that source code would not be results of geniune Android open source work is completely ridiculous.

      The main strength of Android is that it is OPEN SOURCE and FREE. That’s why it’s so popular.

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      1. I’m not aware any difference in the open source/proprietary mix in Gingerbread vs. previous Android releases. I think you are mistaken, but feel free to correct me with a citation.

        The fact remains that OMS (OPhone) and Tapas replace Google functionality with their own equivalents and are not the same as Android. Including them in the Android marketshare misrepresents the data, as well as Google’s Android market position and benefits accruing to Google from it.

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  8. Hi,

    All Apple has to do is what it did with the iPod after a few years with an onslaught of low cost entry-level competitors, release iPhone 3GS’s or iPhone Nano’s for sub-$100 and so many people currently buying Androids would go for Apples product.

    Also, a whole bunch of companies are using Android because its a high-level quality O.S. completely paid for by Google which is keeping those manufacturers costs down, but also ensuring they have no control.
    However, Nokia is the master of quality low-cost hand-sets in the emerging economies to date, and with a choice of a cheapo ZTE or Decent Nokia, what will most consumers choose?

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

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  9. [...] now, however, data-enabled cell phones far outsell tablets: IDC estimates that 401.4 million mobile phones were sold in 2010, while roughly 17 million tablets were purchased last year. So a universal phone charger offers [...]

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  10. Nexus S is ultimate Android smartphone till now in the market

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