Can Android Be Stopped in the World of Smartphones?

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IDG IDC today boosted its smartphone sales outlook for 2010 by 10 percent, citing “greater-than-expected demand for the do-it-all devices.” Based on the revised expectations, IDG IDC anticipates 269.6 million smartphones to ship in 2010, up from 173.5 million sold last year. Those are big numbers, but still a drop in the bucket compared to the over 4 billion handsets already in use. More intriguing is how IDG IDC sees the mobile operating system shaking out by 2014: Google Android devices are expected to be the no. 2 mobile operating system, behind only Nokia’s Symbian platform.

Android surpassing both iOS smartphones and BlackBerry devices actually isn’t such a surprise, since here in the U.S., Android devices are already outselling both platforms. We know the overall smartphone market will experience growth over the coming years, so all of the platforms could experience sales growth, even as they lose market share. In other words, all boats will rise with the tide, but Android will rise much faster. Here’s a snapshot of the IDG IDC data I put together in a graph:

It’s interesting that IDG IDC has high hopes for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 product: Windows Mobile has lost market share for the past three years, but IDG IDC thinks Microsoft’s mobile effort won’t be a total failure similar to the Kin. We’ll hear more on this topic at our Mobilize event later this month: Microsoft GM, Developer and Platform Evangelism Matt Thompson is sharing thoughts in his talk titled “The Future of Mobile, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 (and Why iPhone and Android Developers Will Care).” Clearly, there’s little expectation from IDG IDC that webOS will do much for smartphones out of Hewlett-Packard, which acquired the platform when it purchased Palm in April this year. And Nokia is once again expected to lose market share, says IDG IDC.

In past posts, I expressed some “doom and gloom” for Nokia when faced with data such as this, but a few things have me holding back from repeating that mantra. To its credit, Nokia has been able to reverse its smartphone sales losses — but not profits — indicating that it can still fight back in the market that it once dominated. I’ve also had a recent and candid phone conversation with Niklas Savander, executive vice president and general manager of the Markets unit at Nokia. If nothing else, Savander has proven to me that Nokia fully understands the challenges it faces; he believes in the company’s strategy and told me, amid my fair criticisms of such strategies, Nokia “needed to be confident that MeeGo was the right position before making it the platform of choice.” We’ll see if that strategy pays with the first MeeGo devices, which could arrive by the end of this year. If it does, we’ll see how much of an impact the new platform has on the next several years of smartphone sales.

Until then, however, it’s an Android world because those manufacturers who embrace it — notably Motorola and HTC — are reaping rewards by growing profits. For that reason, I previously suggested that Nokia embrace Android too. Savander disagreed — in fact, he began our conversation by asking me to justify my suggestion — but today there’s another group in the “Nokia should go Android” camp. AllThingsD shared smartphone sales estimates from the analysts at Piper Jaffray that are similar to the IDG numbers, along with this startling quote:

“We believe long term both RIM and Nokia will be share losers in the smartphone space because they do not have a core software competency. Over time, we do not see the benefit of RIM and Nokia continuing to push proprietary software that can’t compete with the market and eventually expect one or both to capitulate and move to utilizing third party software. … Ultimately, we believe Android is likely to control over half of the smartphone market in the next five years.”

For as brash as I was suggesting Nokia go Android, Piper Jaffray is doubly so for including BlackBerry too. But RIM’s future is constrained by its prior success; as shown by the new Torch handset, the company can’t completely alienate its loyal user-base by changing too much too soon.

Will Android own 25-, 50-percent or more of the smartphone market by 2014? Given the fast pace of change in hardware, software, services and connectivity, it’s too soon to tell for sure. Looking out four years from now is a bit of a stretch to account for all of those changes as companies adopt and re-prioritize strategies. Until someone shakes up the market though, the Android army has little reason to stop marching forward.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: It’s Time for Nokia to Embrace Android

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