This Mobile Platform is King

Google's Android stepping up in popularity.A November 1 release from the International Data Corporation showed that shipments of Android-based smartphones grew 91.5 percent in the third quarter, to a record 136 million units. Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) free mobile OS nearly doubled the third-quarter growth rate for the rest of the industry, and landed 75 percent of the market share for the period.

Third-quarter 2012 shipments of Android-based phones, led by Samsung (SSNLF.PK) were nearly double the amount shipped in the quarter for 2011. In the release, IDC Senior research analyst Kevin Restivo credits Google’s “thriving, multi-faceted product portfolio” for the surge.

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“The smartphone operating system isn’t an isolated product, it’s a crucial part of a larger technology ecosystem,” he said. “This factor and others have led to loss of share for competitors with few exceptions.”

The shining exception is Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, which shipped on 26.9 million units in the third quarter. Apple’s mobile OS market share is 14.9 percent according to the IDC, a 57.3 percent increase from 2011. The release calls the iOS a “distant second” to Android.

Research in Motion’s (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry platform shrank to just 4.3 percent for the third quarter, with 7.7 million units shipped. BlackBerry had a 9.5 percent share in the third quarter of 2011.

Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone clocked in 3.6 million shipments for a 2 percent market share in the quarter. This is a 140 percent increase from the quarter in 2011. All eyes are on the fourth quarter for the performance of Windows Phone 8 in the market.

ComScore released a report on October 1 that confirms Android’s top position for the three months ending August, but by a slimmer margin. ComScore shows Android’s market share at 52.6 percent, with Apple at 34.3 percent, RIM at 8.3 percent, and Microsoft at 3.6 percent.

“Android has been one of the primary growth engines of the smartphone market since it was launched in 2008,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager for the Mobile Phones unit at IDC. “In every year since then, Android has effectively outpaced the market and taken market share from the competition.”

BlackBerry and Symbian are the clear losers in what amounts to a fight between Apple and Google. The launch of BlackBerry 10 early in 2013 will be closely watched, but a rapid, substantial increase in market share is unlikely. If Windows phone 8 gains traction, it will be interesting to observe whether it takes share from BlackBerry, iOS, or Android.

While smartphone shipment rates increase at break-neck speeds, so does the amount of data used. ComScore showed that mobile activity such as downloading apps, accessing a browser, logging on to a social network, and playing games is on the rise. This trend points to an increased emphasis on the ecosystem behind each platform as customers expect a more and more robust experience.

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