Android's Growth Continues, Only Challenged by iOS

NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's Android operating system is on three of every four smartphones shipped around the world in the third quarter of 2012. Its only challenger at this time is Apple's iOS.

Google's Android was the operating system of choice on 75 percent of the 181.1 million smartphones that shipped around the world in the third quarter of 2012, which was five times the 14.9 percent market share of Apple's iOS for the same period.

The new figures are contained in IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report, which was released Nov. 1, just three days after Google launched its new Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets, all running on Android.

The IDC report shows remarkable progress for the four-year-old Android OS against competition that includes the still-strong popularity of Apple iOS, a drastically smaller BlackBerry market, Microsoft's multiple Windows Phone efforts and the rest of a straggling field.

Android was on 136 million smartphones shipped in the quarter, compared with 26.9 million smartphones shipped by Apple, according to the report. For Android, that was a 91.5 percent year-over-year jump from the 71 million Android smartphones shipped in the same quarter one year ago.

"Android has been one of the primary growth engines of the smartphone market since it was launched in 2008," Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst, said in the report. "In every year since then, Android has effectively outpaced the market and taken market share from the competition. In addition, the combination of smartphone vendors, mobile operators and end users who have embraced Android has driven shipment volumes higher. Even today, more vendors are introducing their first Android-powered smartphones to market."

Interestingly, iOS was the only other mobile operating system to have a double-digit market share for the quarter. Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS shipped on 7.7 million smartphones in the quarter, while Symbian shipped on 4.1 million units, according to IDC. Windows Phone 7 or Windows Mobile shipped on 3.6 million devices, while Linux shipped on 2.8 million units.

In a Nov. 2 interview with The New York Times' Bits blog, John Lagerling, Google's director of business development for Android, said that one of the key ways the company has made its devices so popular is through their competitive pricing, especially compared with Apple's more expensive devices.

"Basically, we felt that we wanted to prove you don't have to charge $600 to deliver a phone that has the latest-generation technologies," Lagerling told Bits. "Simply that level of margin is sometimes even unreasonable, and we believed that we could do this."

Lagerling was also asked about Android's growing respectability in the marketplace, which is certainly evidenced in its still-growing market-share numbers and popularity on more and more smartphones and other devices.

"We had such a long laundry list of things we wanted to do, and the fact we had to roll it out so it would work on a multitude of devices, it simply took a bit more time for us to get here," Lagerling told Bits. "But the structure we’ve had for an operating system from Day One including widgets, actual multitasking, notifications, it’s finally coming to its true form right as the software has come into final polish. I’ll admit we’re finally much more closer (sic) to our actual vision in the past year than we have ever been."

Android use has been going through the roof worldwide. In fact, Android hit 500 million device activations overall in mid-September, just as Apple's latest iPhone 5 was about to launch.

The U.S. market for feature-rich smartphones is still expanding at a rapid clip, with two-thirds of new mobile phone buyers opting for devices that can do far more than their old-style flip phones, according to a study from Nielsen released in July. Google's Android operating system is the beneficiary of this surge, although the iPhone still holds sway.