Android surges past Symbian to top global smartphone market

Shipments of smartphones running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android mobile operating system surpassed Symbian device shipments for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to technology analysis firm android shipmentsCanalys. Android shipments topped 33.3 million in Q4, translating to a 32.9 percent share of the global smartphone market, Canalys reports--a year earlier, Android shipments represented just 8.7 percent of the worldwide market, a 615.1 percent leap. Symbian shipments grew from 23.9 million in Q4 2009 to 31 million in the most recent quarter--however, its worldwide market share plummeted from 44.4 percent to 30.6 percent during that time.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone shipments increased from 8.7 million in Q4 2009 to 16.2 million a year later--its smartphone market share slipped from 16.3 percent to 16.0 percent. Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry fell from 20.0 percent market share to 14.4 percent as device shipments increased from 10.7 million to 14.6 million--Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone also stumbled, with its market share falling from 7.2 percent to 3.1 percent as smartphone shipments decreased from 3.9 million in Q4 2009 to 3.1 million a year later.

Total worldwide smartphone shipments surpassed 101.2 million in the fourth quarter, up 89 percent year-over-year. Canalys adds that smartphone shipments for the year fell just shy of 300 million units. The U.S. remains the largest international market in terms of smartphone shipments, more than doubling the Chinese market. Android led the U.S. market in Q4 2010, with shipments of 12.1 million units--almost triple the number of BlackBerry devices.

Symbian's fall from atop the worldwide smartphone rankings follows days after Nokia (NYSE:NOK) hinted it may shift its focus away from the Symbian OS in the wake of weak fourth quarter earnings. Nokia fell 21 percent in Q4--while the handset maker has maintained that Symbian will continue powering most of its smartphones, with high-end devices running its MeeGo platform slated to arrive later this year, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop last week stated the company must "build, catalyze or join a competitive ecosystem," suggesting major changes could be ahead. Analysts have mentioned both Android and Windows Phone 7 as potential Nokia partners. Both Sony Ericsson and Samsung Electronics halted their respective Symbian manufacturing plans last year.

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