Android becomes best-selling smartphone OS

Google's mobile operating system has overtaken Nokia's Symbian, according to 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 on Monday.

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

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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 percent of Android smartphone shipments, Canalys said.

The top 5 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 percent, despite shipments growing from 8.7 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 percent to 14.4 percent, despite shipments growing from 10.7 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 percent to 3.1 percent. 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 percent share of shipments. Apple is in second place with 16 percent, followed by RIM at 14 percent, Samsung at 11 percent and HTC with 8 percent.

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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