Gartner: Android Soars Past Symbian in Q1 2011

Industry analysts at Gartner last week issued their first-quarter smartphone market-share numbers, pointing the way to an Android and iOS future. Total mobile communication device sales jumped 19 percent year over year, Gartner says, to 428 million units—about 101 million of which were smartphones. (Smartphone sales surged 85 percent year over year.) This compares with roughly 80 million PCs sold during the same time frame.

Amazingly, sales of smartphones could have been much higher during the quarter. But Gartner says sales were somewhat constrained because of announced devices that didn't ship until early in the following quarter. So, in some cases, consumers actually held off on purchases until those new devices arrived.

Looking at the device manufacturers, Nokia was still on top in Q1, with 108 million units sold for 25 percent of the market, down from last year's 31 percent mark and its lowest share since 1997. Rounding out the top five were Samsung (16 percent), LG (5.6 percent), Apple (3.9 percent), and Research in Motion (3 percent). Apple's growth was particularly notable: iPhone sales basically doubled year over year—an astonishing feat, given the post-holiday quarter and the lackluster and buggy iPhone 4 hardware that Apple is still selling. (Some have suggested that much of Apple's sales are actually coming from heavily discounted, previous-generation iPhone 3GS hardware.)

Turning our attention to mobile OS platforms, a familiar pattern emerges: Android was the best-selling mobile OS by far, with 36 million units sold, good for 36 percent of the market (up a huge amount from last year's 9.6 percent share.) Number-two Symbian accounted for 28 million units, or 27 percent of the market, but its market-share numbers are in free fall: Last year, Symbian controlled over 44 percent of the market.

Rounding out the top five are iOS (iPhone, iPad) with 16.8 million units sold and 16.8 percent market share, RIM BlackBerry with 13 million units and 12.9 percent market share, and Microsoft, with 3.4 million units and 3.6 percent market share.

The Microsoft numbers are interesting. Although Gartner maintains that "the big news in the first quarter of 2011 was Nokia's strategic alliance with Microsoft on Windows Phone 7, and the retirement of Symbian," it also noted that Windows Phone accounted for only 1.6 million units sold in the quarter. This suggests that Microsoft sold more licenses for Windows Mobile, its previous mobile OS, than it did for Windows Phone, the new version.

Regardless, Windows Phone has a bright future. With RIM imploding nicely alongside Nokia/Symbian, the path is clear for a combined Windows Phone/Nokia effort to claim a top-three spot possibly as soon as this time next year. "Windows Phone saw only modest sales [in Q1], as devices launched at the end of 2010 failed to grow in consumer preference and [wireless carriers] continued to focus on Android," Gartner noted. "In the long term, Nokia's support will accelerate Windows Phone's momentum."

Indeed, in the current quarter, Microsoft would have pulled ahead of RIM already if just one-third of Symbian users switched along with Nokia to the Windows Phone platform. Microsoft and Nokia, of course, hope that many more Symbian users, as well as new customers, will join them with Windows Phone. And they're not alone in this belief: Analysts from both IDC and Gartner previously predicted that, by 2015, Windows Phone would be the number-two smartphone platform behind Android because of this coming market shift.

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