Android becomes best-selling smartphone OS, says Canalys

Shipments of Android-based smartphones reached 32.9 million worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2010, making Android the best-selling operating system for smartphones, market research company Canalys said Monday.

The Nokia-backed Symbian platform is now in second place. Worldwide shipments of Symbian-based smartphones totaled 31 million in the fourth quarter, compared to 23.9 million a year earlier. Its market share dropped from 44.4% to 30.6%, due in large part to Android's spectacular 615.1% year-on-year sales growth. In a year, Android's market share has grown from 8.4% to 32.5%.

Android's ascent to the smartphone throne has come a few quarters earlier than previously expected, according to Pete Cunningham, analyst at Canalys. In the fourth quarter, Android was helped by strong sales from a number of vendors, including LG, Samsung, Acer and HTC, according to Canalys. HTC and Samsung together accounted for nearly 45% of Android smartphone shipments, Canalys said.

The top five smartphone OS ranking is rounded out by Apple's iOS, the BlackBerry OS from Research In Motion, and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile.

Apple's market share dropped by 0.3 percentage points to 16%, despite shipments growing from 8.7 million to 16.2 million iPhones. The company still sets the benchmark for usability and the size of its ecosystem of partners and developers, Cunningham said.

RIM's market share dropped from 20% to 14.4%, despite shipments growing from 10.7 million to 14.6 million smartphones. The fact that RIM recaptured first place from Apple in the U.S sales ranking may offer some consolation.

Windows Phone 7-based smartphones appeared too late in the quarter to take full advantage of holiday season purchasing. As a result, Microsoft's worldwide market share dropped from 7.2% to 3.1%. Sales of Windows Phone 7 smartphones have been steady, not spectacular, so far, Cunningham said.

Nokia managed to retain its position as the largest smartphone vendor, with a 28% share of shipments. Apple is in second place with 16%, followed by RIM at 14%, Samsung at 11% and HTC with 8%.

2011 is set to be a highly competitive year with vendors looking to use new technology, such as dual-core processors, NFC (Near-Field Communications) and 3D displays to compete for consumer spending, Canalys said.

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