Android Steals Top Smartphone Spot From Symbian

Nokia was ousted from atop the smartphone platform leader board after a nearly ten-year stay as Android led sales in fourth quarter of 2010, according to Canalys data.
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Canalys reports that all Android vendors combined sold a total of 32.9 million Android handsets during the fourth quarter of 2010. Nokia sold 31.0 million Symbian smartphones. The numerical gap between the two platforms may not be a big one, but in the smartphone industry, this is big, big news.

Android is now the top-selling smartphone platform worldwide.

Perhaps what's most staggering is the percentage growth in sales experienced by the handset makers. LG, Samsung, Acer, and HTC, saw their Google-based platforms grow by 4,127%, 1,474%, 709%, and 371%, respectively, year-on-year. Google and HTC accounted for a whopping 45% of all Google OS sales.

Nokia is not enjoying similar numbers. Nokia had been the world leader in volume for mobile phones for as long as anyone can remember. It has also led the world in smartphone shipments, with its Symbian-based platform spread far across the globe. Four years ago, Nokia had as much as 78% of the worldwide market for smartphones. According to Canalys, Nokia's fourth quarter 2010 share of the smartphone market was just 28%, a massive drop from its glory days.

In terms of handsets being used in the market, it's important to note that Nokia's Symbian platform is still number one. Its volume and reach still have every other platform beat with respect to devices still in service. But how long will that last? With Android now out-selling Symbian on a daily basis, what can Nokia do to stem the losses and turn itself around?

"2010 has been a fantastic year for the smart phone market. After a difficult 2009, the speed with which the market has recovered has required real commitment and innovation from vendors and they have risen to the challenge," said Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones in a prepared statement. "But vendors cannot afford to be complacent. 2011 is set to be a highly competitive year with vendors looking to use new technology, such as dual-core processors, NFC, and 3D displays, to differentiate their products and maintain value."

Nokia has already committed to adding NFC capabilities to its handsets, and the core Symbian kernel supports dual-core processors. Nokia has not announced any new smartphones in what feels like an eternity.

Canalys notes that Nokia maintained the overall lead its home market of Europe, as well as the Middle East and Asia. More smartphones shipped in the U.S. than anywhere else, however, with Android taking its fair share. In the U.S., handset vendors shipped 12.1 million Android smartphones.

"The U.S. landscape will shift dramatically this coming year, as a result of the Verizon-Apple agreement," said Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd in a prepared statement. "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."

As reported last week, one of Nokia's problems is its failure to innovate in the face of the competition. It's a large, conservative organization that has taken too long to respond to competitive threats. It's also been loath to make the kinds of software changes that competitors Palm and Microsoft have done to resurrect their smartphone platforms. (Admittedly, Palm's success with webOS so far is questionable, and it is too early to pass judgment on Windows Phone 7.)

Nokia's new CEO, Stephen Elop, appears to be bent on making changes and righting the ship. The question is can he -- and can Nokia -- make them fast enough?

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