Android seems to be an OS very much in flux at the moment — open to all comers on the one hand, but also looking to balance claims of fragmentation and not being open on the other. But if one thing appears to be certain, it is that Android is the dominant OS for smartphones today, and it looks like it will be for some time to come, according to forecasts from Gartner.
Gartner predicts in a new report that smartphone sales this year will top 468 million units in 2011, representing a 57.7 percent increase over the year before. Android has had a swift rise to the top of the mix: by the end of this year, it will have a 49 percent of the smartphone market.
As the rise in smartphones progresses, Android will keep its position as the most popular smartphone OS: by 2015 smartphones will make up 47 percent of the mobile market worldwide (compared to 26 percent in 2011), working out to more than 1 billion devices. Android’s share will have declined only slightly by that point, to 48.8 percent of the market.
While Android OEMs will continue to produce high-end devices, the increasing number of cheap Android handsets seems to be the biggest factor contributing to Android’s growth. Gartner says that by 2015 some 67 percent of open OS smartphones will have an average selling price of $300 or less. A lot of that downward pressure will be played out among Android handset makers, Gartner anaylst Roberta Cozza says: this will not just be about competing on price in developed markets, but creating less expensive devices for emerging economies as well.
Some other takeaways:
Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Nokia: While Nokia’s Symbian had a respectable 37.6 percent of the smartphone market in 2010, that has dropped by quite a lot to 19 percent in 2011, and as Nokia (NYSE: NOK) makes the transition to Windows Phone 7 in 2012, this will all but eliminate Symbian from the rankings by 2015.
But the boost to Microsoft — even as it continues to license its OS to other OEMs — will take a while to come through, and looks like it will take a very long time (if ever) to reach the strong position Nokia once had with Symbian. Microsoft will only reach 19.5 percent of the market — basically Symbian’s stake today — by 2015.
Apple: Currently iOS has a number-two position in the market at 19.4 percent but it will slip down to third after Microsoft by 2015. Gartner calculations assume that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will continue with its current premium pricing strategy, to keep margins high. If Apple does introduce differently tiered iPhones, as it does in the iPod market, things could turn out differently.
RIM: A relatively strong player now, with a fourth position in the overall market, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) will keep that place, while losing a bit of share, even as it transitions to QNX as the main OS for all its devices.
Gartner believes that the tablet market will very much follow that of the smartphone market (and crucially not the PC market): users of one OS in mobile, it says, will turn to that same OS in the tablet form factor. That could be a good thing for Android players but less so for those who are still struggling to make ground in smartphones, let alone in their early tablet forays, such as HP.
Full table below: