Google’s Android operating system became the world’s leading smartphone platform, accounting for 33.3 million of the 101.2 million smartphones shipped worldwide in the fourth quarter 2010, according to researcher Canalys.
Canalys, which crunched smartphone shipments across North America, Asia Pacific, EMEA and Latin America, said Android edged the struggling Nokia, which sold 31 million units for the quarter.
Android’s market share closed hewed to its shipment total, at 32.9 percent, while Nokia was at 30.6 percent share through Q4.
Apple sold 16.2 million iPhones, good for a 16 percent share and solid third place. Research In Motion, which finds its smartphone leadership position squeezed in the U.S. market by Apple iPhones and Android handsets, followed Apple with 14.6 million units shipped on 14.4 percent share.
No. 5 smartphone provider Microsoft’s unit shipments and market share were 3.1 million and 3.1 percent, respectively for Q4.
HTC and Samsung together accounted for nearly 45 percent of Android handset shipments worldwide.
Moreover, Android’s volume growth was astronomical across LG, Samsung, Acer and HTC, where shipment volumes grew 4,127 percent, 1,474 percent, 709 percent and 371 percent, respectively, from the year-ago period.
Android clearly didn’t catch fire in the market until 2010, partly triggered by the first major marketing push of Verizon’s Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris in the 2009 holiday season.
While Canalys analyst Chris Jones allowed that 2010 was a “fantastic year for the smartphone market,” he expects 2011 to be a highly competitive year as Google, Apple, RIM and Microsoft tout newfangled technologies.
Jones pointed to the arrival of dual-core processors, near field communications chips and 3D displays in smartphone software and handsets.
Samsung already sells the Android-based Nexus S with NFC support. Ideally, this capability will enable mobile payments and other perks to take advantage of the short-range wireless technology.
Android led the U.S. smartphone market in shipping 12.1 million units for Q4, or nearly three times those of RIM’s BlackBerry devices.
Don’t forget about Apple. Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd said the U.S. mobile market will “shift dramatically” in 2011 thanks to Verizon’s agreement to sell the iPhone 4 starting Feb. 10.
“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,” Shepherd added.
Most analysts expect iPhone to easily outstrip Android in the United States, tacking 10 million to 20 million unit sales via Verizon alone.