2010 Year in Review: Android takes off

The news: If 2009 was the year that Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform gained mainstream acceptance, 2010 saw Android dominating the smartphone market and taking market share away from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry and market leader Symbian.

The year started off with a bang with Google's announcement of the HTC-made Nexus One, which showcased Android 2.1 and which Google sold directly via an online store. The distribution model ultimately fizzled by mid-May, but the phone set a new bar for high-end Android phones and showed what was possible on the platform. 

According to research firm Gartner, Android captured 9.6 percent of the global smartphone market in the first quarter, good for fourth place behind Symbian, BlackBerry and iOS. Android's share would only go up from there.

However, what made Android successful this year wasn't just the high-profile smartphone launches like Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) HTC Evo 4G, its first 3G/4G smartphone, or the Motorola (NYSE:MOT) Droid X from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), but Android phones down the range. For example, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) released the mid-range HTC Aria, and Motorola experimented with a variety of form factors, including the squared-shaped Charm.

By the second quarter, when Google released Android 2.2, dubbed "Froyo," Android had surpassed Apple's iOS, capturing 17.2 percent of the global smartphone market, according to Gartner.

The growth of Android picked up pace during the summer and fall. Starting in June, Samsung began pushing its Galaxy S line of phones to multiple U.S. carriers, and by November it had sold 3 million units in the U.S. market. That month Gartner reported that Android commanded 25.5 percent of the smartphone market in the third quarter, eclipsing all comers except for Symbian, which received 36.6 percent.

To end 2010, Google released the Nexus S in conjunction with Samsung, which served as a showcase for Android 2.3. 

Why it was significant: Android's stunning rise this year illustrated several trends in the smartphone market. One was the relative decline of Symbian and BlackBerry, which saw their market shares erode as Android picked up steam. Android's threat to Symbian seemed particularly acute. Another trend was Android's representation of the growing diversification of smartphones in general. Android shined on numerous high-end devices like the HTC Incredible, but also showed up on a slew of lower-end devices that might be less intimidating to first-time smartphone buyers. If Android suceeds in getting customers to switch from feature phones to smartphones--and upgrade to a data plan--wireless carriers surely will be pleased with all of the creations coming out of Mountain View, Calif.