Android Overtakes Symbian as Top Smartphone OS: 10 Reasons Why

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2011-02-01

Android Overtakes Symbian as Top Smartphone OS: 10 Reasons Why

After slowly marching its way toward the top of the smartphone OS market, Google's Android platform is now the most-popular smartphone operating system in the world, according to research firm Canalys.
The company's platform had a 33.3 percent share of all shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010, besting Nokia's 31 percent market share. It's an important day for both Google and Android handset makers. This news confirms what many have been saying for quite some time: Google's platform will dominate for the foreseeable future.

Exactly how Google was able to achieve such success isn't something that's always discussed. Much of the time, the discussion on mobile operating systems turns to Google's battle with Apple. But it should be pointed out that Android was able to capture the lead in the smartphone OS market because of several different factors that helped it attract and retain customers even as Apple continued to push out innovative and wildly popular devices.

Here's how Android reached the top of the smartphone OS market.

1. Each version gets better.

If nothing else, Android's success in 2010 was due to the average consumer's realization that the platform just keeps getting better. Android 1.x versions were nice, but needed work. With the release of Android 2.1 and Android 2.2, consumers started deriving substantially more value from the operating system. Now with Android 3.0 on its way, even more quality should find its way to the mobile operating system.

2. The phones are outstanding.

Android's success can be directly attributed to the many outstanding devices that have proven successful. The Motorola Droid X features a 4.3-inch display, an outstanding touch-screen, and greater ability to enjoy multimedia content than any other device on the market. The HTC Evo, Samsung Galaxy S smartphones and so many other Android products appeal to consumers in a big way. All these phones are helping to drive the platform's growth.

3. Multi-carrier support

One of the biggest problems with Apple's iPhone in the United States is that it has been available on a single carrier since its launch in 2007. Android, on the other hand, runs on a multitude of devices operating on all U.S. carrier networks. The result is more opportunity for consumers to pick an Android device. Although Apple seemingly didn't always agree, having a larger market on which to capitalize is extremely important to the future success of a platform.

4. Apple offers only the iPhone.

One of the key reasons Apple wasn't able to stand atop the smartphone market in the fourth quarter was that the company only offers the iPhone. Granted, it's selling the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4, but there are dozens of Android-based devices on nearly every carrier's store shelves around the world. It's tough for Apple, a company that sells two versions of one device, to compete with that.

Handset-Maker Support, Marketing Put Android on Top

5. Microsoft's decline has helped.

One of the key components in Google's rise in the smartphone OS market has been Microsoft's decline. Like Google, Microsoft offers vendors its operating system and relies on handset makers to sell the hardware. However, Microsoft took too long to get Windows Phone 7 on store shelves, and now, its market share is slipping as vendors look elsewhere to turn profits. In fact, year-over-year smartphone shipments were down 20.3 percent in the fourth quarter. Google's growth, on the other hand, was 615 percent.

6. The marketing has been outstanding.

Marketing for Android-based devices has been outstanding. In fact, Motorola has arguably done the best job at it, using its Droid branding to improve sales of its devices and other products that are running Google's platform. Like Apple, Motorola seems to understand how to market products and those efforts have helped it grow sales. The same can be said for Google. Its own advertising ideas have helped bring Android to the public consciousness. Now its efforts are paying off in a big way.

7. Nokia is lost.

Nokia's Symbian platform is far behind the competition when it comes to what consumers are looking for. Google has been able to capitalize on that issue. Rather than follow Nokia's lead, Google instead decided to try its luck with a hybrid of Apple's and Microsoft's model, delivering a next-gen platform to handset makers, rather than only creating its own handsets. The strategy worked. And in the process, Google made Nokia's platform look obsolete.

8. Blame it on Samsung, Motorola and HTC.

Much of the success of Android platform can be attributed to Google's efforts, but it's also worth noting that Samsung, Motorola and HTC have been integral to the operating system's success, as well. In fact, it's arguable whether Android could have been such a success without help from those companies. Not only have they delivered outstanding smartphones, but they have aided Google in making its operating system more popular.

9. Google's brand

After consumers have a chance to evaluate products and see the marketing surrounding them, they need to examine the company behind those offerings. Are they trustworthy? Do they have a strong track record of delivering worthwhile products? Consumers are constantly concerned with these things. Luckily for Google, its brand recognition and reputation are outstanding. Consumers trust the search giant, and they typically believe that it will deliver an experience that they will enjoy. It's a benefit that has helped Google's operating system succeed beyond some critics' expectations.

10. It left the enterprise to RIM.

One of Google's smartest movies with Android is that the company allowed Research In Motion to continue dominating the enterprise. As successful as RIM is, Google realized that there was more to be achieved by targeting consumers first and worrying about the enterprise second. Now, it can turn its attention to the corporate world. But by focusing first on consumers, Google helped cement its position as a dominant force in the mobile OS space. With the right strategy, Google should be able to match RIM in the enterprise, as well. 

Editor's note: The headline in this article was changed to reflect that the Android operating system has overtaken Symbian, not Nokia, as the top mobile OS in the world.   

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