Google’s Android has become "the world’s leading smart phone platform" according to the analysts at Canalys. The company said today that in the fourth quarter of last year, Android smart phone shipments reached 32.9 million, beating the 31.0 million Nokia phones shipped running Symbian. In another boost for the advertising giant's Linux-based operating system, Strategy Analytics announced that sales of Android tablets increased ten-fold to 2.1 million units, reducing the Apple iPad's market share from 95% to 77%.
The smartphone news was expected at some point because Android smartphone sales have been growing rapidly. In its press statement, Canalys says:
In Q4 2010, volumes of Google OS-based smart phones (Android, OMS and Tapas) were again boosted by strong performances from a number of vendors, notably LG, Samsung, Acer and HTC, whose volumes across these platforms grew 4,127%, 1,474%, 709% and 371% respectively year-on-year. HTC and Samsung together accounted for nearly 45% of Google OS-based handset shipments.
This is likely to continue because of the rapid turnover in Android handsets: there's a new advance every few months, compared with waiting a year for an updated iPhone to come out. And as Canalys's principal analyst Chris Jones says: "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."
Android should also make an increasing impact on the tablet market after the tablet-oriented Honeycomb version appears. Around a hundred designs were shown at the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas in January, including the Motorola Xoom, and most of the manufacturers are targeting Honeycomb for their release.
So far, however, the vast majority of Android tablet sales must be of Samsung's Galaxy Tab, because the South Korean company said it had sold 2 million of this 7-inch tablet in the three months after its launch. [Update: That's the number shipped, not sold.]
It is rumoured that Samsung will unveil a 10-inch version of the Galaxy Tab 2 at the Mobile World Congress in February.
The non-iPad tablet market should get a further boost when RIM launches its PlayBook. On January 28, Taiwan's DigiTimes reported that PlayBook production was "in full swing," reaching about 150,000 - 200,000 units per month. This suggests it could be available in March or April, perhaps slightly earlier in North America.
Meanwhile, Apple is preparing to launch a less defective version of the original iPad. As well an adding the front- and rear-facing cameras and Face Time software that were strangely left out, Apple could also upgrade it to a dual-core processor, add Imagination’s SGX543 graphics processor (according to Ming-Chi Kuo of Concord Securities and expand its minimal memory. Doubling the RAM to 512MB would give the iPad as much memory as an iPhone 4, though it would still be well below netbook levels.
Whether Apple will fix other obvious holes like the lack of a USB port and an SD card slot remains to be seen. Either way, iPad 2 could ship at around the same time as the PlayBook, which should lead to some interesting video shoot-outs.