Google Inc. (GOOG)
fantasized about merely transforming its Android operating system into
a legitimate competitor to Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM)
and Apple, Inc. (AAPL).
In a couple of years that dream was realized. Rising meteorically,
Android has become the “Windows” of the smartphone world, found on hundreds of
phone models, including the most cutting edge hardware on the market.
According to a report by market research firm Gartner, Inc.
in calendar Q1 2011 Google's operating system seized 36 percent of the world
market, almost quadrupling the 9.6 percent market share it held a year ago.
By contrast Apple's iOS sat in third place with a mere 16.8 percent and
RIM owned only 13 percent of the market.
The only major competition to Android's dominance appears to be Finland's Nokia
whose Symbian OS picked up 27.4 percent of the market. Nokia will be
transferring that market share into the trust of Windows Phone 7 (WP7) over the
next year, leaving WP7 almost certain to be the world's #2 smartphone operating system.
WP7 maker Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) badly
needs the help. Despite having one of the most innovative interfaces on
the market, it managed to seize a mere 3.6 percent of the market.
For Microsoft the path seems clear -- pick up Nokia's market share and try to
replicate the success it found in the world of personal computers with its
Windows operating system.
For Apple and RIM, the answers aren't as easy. Both players risk fading into the periphery as Apple did in
the personal computer market years ago. A major factor driving this is
both firms' failure to license their operating systems to third party device
makers. Customers only have one handset -- in Apple's case --
or a handful of handsets -- in RIM's case -- to look forward to yearly, so
naturally gravitate to the more diverse Android and Symbian offerings.
A major factor allowing Apple to cling to its third place position is its
strong app support. Gartner analyst Robert Cozza comments, "This is
a clear advantage for the current stronger ecosystem owners Apple and
But despite Apple presenting a very inviting platform to developers, it seems
inevitable that developers will migrate to platforms with more users -- namely
Android (and Windows Phone 7, soon). As this happens, the company risks
Still Apple can take comfort in the fact that it was the only major player
besides Google to post share gains. It sold 16.8 million iPhones in Q1
2011, over twice the 8.2 million it sold in Q1 2010.
By contrast Symbian saw sales slide from 44.2 percent of the market a year ago,
RIM dropped from 19.6 percent a year back, and Microsoft dropped from 6.8
percent a year prior.
In total 23.6 percent of the 427.8 million phones sold in Q1 2011 were
smartphones, according to Gartner.