Linux remains a scrappy contender in the smartphone wars

While Android and Apple dominate mobile, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Linux platforms duke it out for third place

IDC revealed today that to the surprise of nobody, Android and iOS dominate the global smartphone market, holding a combined 91.1 percent market share for the final quarter of 2012 and 87.6 percent for the year. While the ongoing battle for first place between Google and Apple wages on, an interesting race for the bronze medal is shaping up among Microsoft, BlackBerry, and, surprisingly, Linux.

First, though, let's focus on the duopoly that is Android and iOS: According to IDC, a total of 207.6 million units running Android or iOS shipped during Q4 2012, up 70.2 percent from Q4 2011. For the year, Android and iOS combined for 87.6 percent of the 722.4 million smartphones shipped worldwide, up from 68.1 percent of the 494.5 million units shipped in 2011.

Android dominated the quarter, with 159.8 million Android devices shipping. That represents year-over-year growth of 88 percent, as 85 million Android devices shipped in Q4 2011. For the year as a whole, Android shipped 497.1 million devices worldwide, 104.1 percent more than in 2011, thereby securing the platform a market share of 68.8 percent. In 2011, 243.5 million Android phones shipped across the globe.

Samsung was the biggest contributor to Android's success, according to IDC, amassing 42 percent of all Android smartphone shipments 2012. "The intra-Android competition has not stifled companies from keeping Android as the cornerstone of their respective smartphone strategies, but it has upped the ante to innovate proprietary experiences," according to IDC.

Apple, meanwhile, shipped 47.8 million smartphones last quarter, securing a market share of 21 percent for Q4. The company sent out 37 million smartphones in Q4 for 2011, so it saw just 29.2 percent year-over-year growth. For the entirety of 2012, Apple delivered 135.9 million iPhones, up 46 percent from 93.1 million shipped in all of 2011. The company's total market share for the year held at 18.8 percent.

"What stands out is how iOS's year-over-year growth has slowed compared to the overall market," according to IDC. "The smaller volumes during 2Q12 and to a smaller extent 3Q12 underscore the possibility for a mid-year iPhone release in order to maintain market-beating growth. Speculation about the release of possible larger-screen and inexpensive models during the middle of 2013 continues to follow Apple, which would help sustain growth. But until any model is formally announced, speculation remains simply that."

As to the bottom-dwellers of the top five platforms, BlackBerry has managed to cling to third place, despite seeing its shipments drop by 43.1 percent from Q4 2011 (13 million shipments) to Q4 2012 (7.4 million). The company's market share for the past quarter was 3.2 percent, down from 8.1 percent a year ago. For the entire year, BlackBerry shipped 32.5 million devices, a 36.4 year-over-year decline from 51.1 million in 2011. The company ended the year with a market share of 4.5 percent, compared to 10.3 percent in 2011.

BlackBerry's fate is likely tied to the success of BlackBerry 10, which shipped earlier this year. The company's decision to postpone the release of Version 10 has loosened the company's "tight grip on enterprise users ... and its popularity within emerging markets has been diminished by the competition," according to IDC. "Now that BlackBerry has unveiled BB10, the company is faced with migrating current BlackBerry users to upgrade while persuading smartphone users of other platforms, including previous BlackBerry users, to switch."

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