Android makes strong gains in mobile market

By Dan Gallagher / MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO — The Android mobile operating system from Google Inc. was the top seller among competing platforms in the fourth quarter, which saw a booming demand for smart phones, according to a pair of studies released Monday.

Globally, Android managed to overtake Symbian as the top platform in the quarter, according to data from market research firm Canalys. Google’s platform has benefitted from adoption by some of the world’s largest mobile-phone makers, such as HTC, Samsung and LG. Symbian, by contrast, resides mostly on handsets manufactured by its owner — Nokia Corp.

In the U.S., Android was also the top mobile platform for the period, ranking above that of the popular iOS from Apple Inc. that powers the iPhone. Android also bested the BlackBerry platform from Research In Motion Ltd. for the quarter, Canalys found.

The competitive dynamics may shift in the first quarter of this year, when the iPhone makes its debut on Verizon Wireless in the U.S. Verizon has been a key backer of Android.

“The U.S. landscape will shift dramatically this coming year, as a result of the Verizon-Apple agreement,” said Tim Shepherd, analyst for Canalys, in the report Monday. “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.”

On a global basis, shipments of Android phones reached 32.9 million, outpacing Symbian shipments of 31 million, according to Canalys. Android shipped 12.1 million units in the U.S.

On a handset basis, the top-selling smart-phone vendor in the U.S. for the quarter was Apple, with the iPhone 4 in the No. 1 slot and the older iPhone 3GS at No. 4, according to data from NPD Group.

Android handsets held three of the top five slots. The Droid X and Droid 2 from Motorola Mobility came in second and fifth for the period, respectively. The HTC EVO 4G that is sold at Sprint was the No. 3 handset for the period.

Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft Corp. launched during the fourth quarter, but was a relatively small seller. NPD said the platform accounted for just 2 percent of smart-phone sales for the period. The WebOS platform from Palm — which is now owned by Hewlett-Packard Co. — also comprised about 2 percent of smart-phone sales in the U.S.