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HTC Led Q3 U.S. Smartphone Sales, Nokia To Wait Until 2012 To Challenge It

Figures out from Canalys tracking smartphone shipments worldwide in Q3 have once again demonstrated that the flood of Android handsets on the market is making Google’s mobile OS the smartphone platform leader for the moment, with a 57 percent share of the market.

In the U.S., where the rising Android tide is even higher at 70 percent, HTC is at the very the top in terms of smartphone shipments, just ahead of another Android OEM, Samsung, which nevertheless ranked as the biggest smartphone vendor worldwide. Does that Android dominance leave room for more challengers? Nokia (NYSE: NOK) certainly hopes that 2012 won’t be too late to try.

In the U.S. Canalys’ researchers said that HTC triumphed over Samsung in the U.S. — the world’s largest smartphone market at the moment — with 5.7 million devices, accounting for almost a quarter of all handset shipments, plus an extra 70,000 units under the T-Mobile brand. Samsung edged out Apple in the quarter with 4.9 million versus 4.6 million shipments in the U.S. RIM (NSDQ: RIMM), meanwhile, saw a huge drop, with its share of shipments at just nine percent in the quarter, compared to 24 percent a year ago.

(Shipments, it should be pointed out, are only part of the equation for handset makers: they are not actual sales, although they can point to consumer demand, and what the channels believe will promote and sell the best. Moreover, in many cases, shipments are a mixture of actual reported numbers plus estimates, so they do vary from one analyst to another.)

These numbers are almost certain to change in the quarter ahead: Canalys analyst Chris Jones points out that he believes that Q4, which has seen the launch of the iPhone 4S and an expanded list of carriers selling the device, will be a strong one for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). He also describes the company as the only one that can “get away with not having a 4G smart phone.” On top of that, both Samsung and HTC in the last few days have given very cautious forecasts about how well they might each do in the quarter ahead.

Among carriers, there is also a crucial switchover point approaching, notes Jones: Next week is the two-year anniversary of the Droid launch from Verizon. That will mean that those who bought early will see their two-year contracts coming to an end this quarter, giving them an opening to either stay with what they have, or potentially try something new.

That gives an opening to one prominent device maker that is not figuring very strongly in the U.S. smartphone landscape: Nokia. The Finnish company has lost its place as the world leader in terms of smartphone shipments, according to Canalys (more on that below), but that is a state it hopes to reverse using Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform in a new line of devices. Those handsets, due to be launched this quarter in select markets, will not be making their way to the U.S. until 2012, when they will be distributed with multiple carriers, according to this interview with CEO Stephen Elop in Bloomberg. Elop

Worldwide. Overall, some 120.4 million smartphones were shipped, a growth of 49 percent over the same quarter a year ago. Samsung took the top spot in Canalys’ world rankings, with 27.3 million units shipped in the quarter (23 percent of all shipments). Samsung currently leads smartphone shipments in Asia-Pacific, Western Europe and Latin America, on the strength not only of its own-brand devices but also its handsets co-branded with Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and T-Mobile — which together had shipments of 500,000.

Nokia fell to second place in Canalys’ worldwide rankings (echoing the rankings as seen by Strategy Analytics days ago) and saw a sharp decline in one of its most important markets of the moment, China (current: 28 percent; last year: 75 percent).

Nokia is still hanging on to its position as China’s smartphone market leader, but the drop it is particularly bad timing for the company, considering how fast China is growing at the moment. Canalys says that smartphone shipments were up 160 percent on last year to 23.2 million, putting China just behind the U.S. in terms of size. The beneficiaries of that growth appear to be domestic companies like Huawei and ZTE, as well as Apple and Samsung.

While RIM might be ringing some alarm bells in the U.S., in the rest of the world, the picture is looking significantly rosier. It’s number of smartphone shipments in EMEA grew by 59 percent (the Middle East being particularly strong, it seems); and in Asia shipments were up by 56 percent — no doubt in large part fuelled by the popularity of the BBM service with young buyers that carriers and retailers are keen to court.