Android goes from underdog to top dog: Watch out Apple

The Android mobile OS is everything Google hoped it would be and everything Apple hoped it wouldn't.

Here's more evidence of Android's meteoritic rise to the top. According to market researcher Gartner, Google's fledgling open-source mobile operating system, barely a blip on the wireless radar a year ago, will grab the No. 2 spot in global market share by the end of 2010. Even more stunning is Gartner's prediction that Android will rival Symbian as the world's top mobile OS by 2014.

Certainly, Android phone manufacturers (and fans) will welcome Gartner's four-year forecast, which doesn't offer today's leading mobile OS vendors, Research In Motion (RIM) and Nokia, much to celebrate.

A Black Eye for BlackBerry

BlackBerry-maker RIM takes the hardest punch. RIM, which owned almost 20 per cent of the global mobile market in 2009, will see that share nearly halved to 11.7 per cent by 2014, Gartner predicts. And Nokia, which sells millions of Symbian-based phones (particularly in developing countries like India) won't be thrilled by the forecast either. Symbian, which owned nearly 47 per cent of the global market in 2009, will plummet to around 30 per cent four years from now.

For Android, however, the news is grand. Not only will it nudge RIM out of second place by the end of 2010, but it also run head-to-head with Symbian within four years-each with a 30 per cent share. (Gartner gives Symbian the slight edge, however.)

Open Source Rules

The mobile market will favor open-source operating systems (i.e., Android and Symbian) over single-source platforms such as Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry OS. While mobile sales for Apple and RIM will continue to rise, they won't be high enough to boost the platforms' global shares.   Apple, for instance, will have about 15 per cent of the market by 2014, a half-point drop from today, says the forecast.

Gartner is the second research firm this week to predict a rosy future for Android. IDC also forecasts that Android will rise to second place by 2014, although it expects Symbian to retain a comfortable lead--33 percent to Android's 25 percent.

The Wildcard:   Windows Phone

One notable difference between the Gartner and IDC forecasts concerns Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Gartner predicts Windows Phone will be an also-ran in four years with a meagre 4 per cent share, while IDC gives Microsoft's OS a healthy 9.8 per cent of the market-just a point behind iOS, in fact.

The disparity is strong indication that no one really knows how mobile customers will respond to Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's new OS slated to debut on several third-party handsets within weeks.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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