Android has passed yet another milestone in its race to the top: With 32.9 million handsets sold globally this last quarter, it has ousted longtime champion Nokia (with 31m) for the title of most popular smartphone OS maker in the world. It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, of course, since Nokia also makes its own handsets, but quibbling aside, the toppling of such an iconic mobile company is no small event.
The numbers don’t seem to include tablets, though it recently transpired that even the top-selling Android tablet sales were, to quote Samsung, “quite small.” We won’t see the Honeycomb effect until later in 2011. But it seems as though Android still has nowhere to go but up — that is, if you consider downmarket “up.”
The battle at the top for dominance of the tech-savvy smartphone crowd continues to be a three-way battle between Google, RIM, and Apple, and whatever your allegiance, you have to admit that it’s far from an easy fight for any of them. The good news for Google is that unlike its competitors in the $200-phone, $100-plan range, Android is ripe for spreading to the feature-phone market, where it can easily out-feature the chintzy flip-phones from Samsung and Sony Ericsson and reach a market numbering in the hundreds of millions. We’ve already seen strong-selling lower-cost devices, like the Optimus One, and it’s just a matter of time before Android is the default operating system for the free phone coming with a $50 all-inclusive plan.
In the meantime, Android is growing significantly faster than the iPhone, though opening up Verizon as a carrier may provide a serious boost to sales. RIM is also feeling the heat, with lots of international clout but little brand relevance among the younger demographics. Some may say that 2010 was Android’s breakout year, but it’s entirely possible that 2011 will be even more so, as Google broadens its tentacles even further into the average human’s life.
And what of Nokia? The former market leader has been dragging its feet for literally four or five years now, and even their newest projects show little promise or originality when compared to their competitors. Google and Apple have eaten Nokia’s cake, and while the latter can still rely on its dumbphones for a steady source of income, that source is increasingly under threat from Android, and they’re running out of time to make a play for their former lofty position.