Should BlackBerry have gone Android? The answer is no - and these numbers show why

Summary:If switching to Android would have been so great for Nokia and BlackBerry, why hasn't it helped Sony and LG more, let alone HTC?

The recent woes of BlackBerry have resulted in the the predictable suggestions that instead of ploughing ahead with its BlackBerry 10 operating system, it should have taken its design chops and security knowhow and jumped on the Android bandwagon.

You can make the same argument about Nokia — after all, wouldn't that great Lumia camera have sold more phones on Android?

Five alternative futures for BlackBerry

Five alternative futures for BlackBerry

But how many Android phone makers have actually hit the big time with big sales, or better yet, big profits?

The Android market is famously dominated by Samsung, which sells almost seven times as many phones as the number three player worldwide: LG. Also an Android phone maker, LG sold only 10 million phones in Q1 2013 compared to Samsung's 70 million (according to IDC, or 64 million according to Gartner). Apple, of course, has the number two slot, with some 38 million handsets.

It's the same in Q2. IDC says Samsung shipped 72 million smartphones compared to 31 million iPhones, but LG shipped 12 million smartphones — closely followed by 11 million smartphones from Lenovo and 10 million from ZTE.  

What about Sony, which has a strong brand, strong design skills and plenty of assets to leverage for marketing its Android phones? Sony doesn't even make it to the top five phone brands for Q1, with 9.6 million phones (from its own sales figures; Gartner and ABI Research had estimated numbers closer to 8 million).

If that's all Nokia or BlackBerry could expect from jumping off their 'burning platforms' onto Android, it hardly seems worthwhile.

In the same Q1, with the operating systems some pundits say they should have dumped, Gartner and IDC say BlackBerry shipped 6.3 million phones and sold 6.2 million phones and Windows Phone shipped 7 million and sold 5.9 million (5.6 million of those were Lumias). In Q2 2013, Nokia sold 7.4 million Lumias and BlackBerry shipped 6.8 million units (according to their own figures; Gartner and IDC both estimate total Windows Phone sales at just over 7.4 million).

smartphone-sales-2013
The number of phones you sell if you aren't Samsung or Apple

So what about the money? Although Nokia is doing best with its cheaper models such as the Lumia 520 and the non-Windows Phone Asha handsets, Strategy Analytics figures for Q1 2013 show Nokia is doing comparatively well in terms of actual dollars. Number one is Samsung, with $23.62bn in sales; number two is Apple, with $22.95bn worth of phones (so the same amount of money for only half the units sold).

When Strategy Analytics did its report back in May, it put Nokia third with sales of $3.64bn and LG fourth with $2.95bn in revenue from mobile phones. HTC only managed $1.4bn revenue in the same period (although it did bump back up to $2.4bn for Q2).

Once you get past the combined sales of Samsung and Apple, which are about ten times as high as most of the Android phone makers, Android doesn't look like such a company saviour.

The 156 million Android phone sales in the first quarter of this year were made up of one big player, Samsung, and a lot of small players, with the five most-successful selling around 10 million phones each.

Even worse, unless you make the screens and ARM chips and Flash memory that go in the Android phones you see, it seems to be remarkably hard to make any money from them. According to Strategy Analytics, Samsung made 94.7% of all the Android smartphone profits in Q1 2103, followed by LG with 2.5% and the last 2.7% shared by every other Android phone maker.

With those kinds of figures, sticking to their own operating system should sound more attractive to BlackBerry and Nokia than ever.

Further reading

Topics: Smartphones, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone

About

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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