Android becomes world’s top smartphone platform

Google’s Android has become the top platform in the world in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the latest research.

Shipments of Android-based smartphones reached 32.9 million, while devices running Nokia’s Symbian platform trailed slightly at 31.0 million worldwide, said a new report from Canalys. Yet Nokia did retain its position as the top global smartphone vendor, with a share of 28%.

The fourth quarter also saw the worldwide smartphone market continue to soar, with shipments of 101.2 million units representing year on year growth of 89%. The final quarter took shipments for the year to fractionally below 300 million units, with an annual growth rate of 80% over 2009.

In Q4 2010, volumes of Google OS-based smartphones (Android, OMS and Tapas) were again boosted by strong performances from a number of vendors, notably LG, Samsung, Acer and HTC, whose volumes across these platforms grew 4,127%, 1,474%, 709% and 371% respectively year on year, Canalys stated. HTC and Samsung together accounted for nearly 45% of Google OS-based handset shipments.

“2010 has been a fantastic year for the smartphone market. After a difficult 2009, the speed with which the market has recovered has required real commitment and innovation from vendors and they have risen to the challenge,” said Canalys vice president and principal analyst, Chris Jones. “But vendors cannot afford to be complacent. 2011 is set to be a highly competitive year with vendors looking to use new technology, such as dual core processors, NFC and 3D displays, to differentiate their products and maintain value.”

At a regional level, EMEA remained the largest market, with shipments totalling 38.8 million and a year on year growth rate of 90%. Nokia continued to lead in EMEA and Asia Pacific, but in 2010 it was overtaken by RIM in Latin America, which shipped over a million more units than Nokia in Q4 2010. The vendor was particularly helped by the popularity of its mid-range smartphones, such as its Curve family of devices.

The US continued its reign as the largest country market in terms of shipments, at more than double the size of the Chinese smartphone market. RIM recaptured first place from Apple, as the latter experienced its usual US seasonal dip, and RIM benefited from the first full quarter of shipments for the BlackBerry Torch. HTC successfully maintained its third place ranking in the US for the third consecutive quarter, driven by its speed to market with the latest Android updates and new Windows Phone 7 devices.

Canalys analyst, Tim Shepherd, added: “The US landscape will shift dramatically this coming year, as a result of the Verizon-Apple agreement. Verizon will move its focus away from the Droid range, but the overall market impact will mean less carrier-exclusive deals, while increasing the AT&T opportunity for Android vendors, such as HTC, Motorola and Samsung.”

Android was by far the largest smartphone platform in the US market in Q4 2010, with shipments of 12.1 million units, nearly three times those of RIM’s BlackBerry devices. Windows Phone 7 devices appeared too late in the quarter to take full advantage of holiday season purchasing. As a result, Microsoft lost share in the US, from 8% in Q4 2009 to 5% in Q4 2010.

Analysis of the published country-level data shows that, around the world, the strength of smartphone performances remained diverse. In South Korea, for example, Canalys said shipments grew from under 700,000 units in Q4 2009 to just under 3.4 million units in Q4 2010, making the country a top 10 market.

In Japan, Android shipments have taken off over the past year, with nearly 1.4 million units shipping from local as well as international vendors, such as HTC. More Japanese vendors have also announced plans to launch Android devices in 2011, such as NEC Casio and Panasonic. Under pressure from Huawei and Samsung in particular, Nokia’s share in China slipped to 56%, down from 76% a year ago, despite growing its volume in the country by over 70% in the same period. Albeit from a smaller base, the Chinese market grew 134% year on year, notably faster than the US market, which grew at 64% in the quarter.