January 31, 2011
By KEVIN J. O’BRIEN
BERLIN — Google’s operating system for cellphones has overtaken Nokia’s Symbian system as the market leader, ending the Finnish company’s long reign, a British research firm said Monday.
In the three months through December, manufacturers shipped 33.3 million cellphones running Android, Google’s free, open-source cellphone operating system, up from just 4.7 million a year earlier, according to Canalys, a research firm in Reading, England.
Shipments of phones running the Symbian operating system jumped 31 percent in the quarter, to 31 million, Canalys said.
Analysts said the figures represented a tectonic shift in the industry, cementing the influence of Google’s advertising-driven business on the mobile Internet. And this year, according to the research firm Gartner, more people will gain access to the Internet through mobile devices than with personal computers.
“Google only wins with this,” said Pete Cunningham, a Canalys analyst. “There will be more eyes on the mobile Web and more eyes seeing their advertisements.”
Phones powered by Android first appeared on the global market two years ago. They are produced by a host of manufacturers, including Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG, Huawei and ZTE.
Around the world, 1.3 billion people use Nokia phones, and the company remains the leading cellphone maker, with 31 percent of the global market, according to Strategy Analytics, a research firm based in Boston. But Nokia has struggled to develop an operating system for high-end smartphones, the fastest-growing and most lucrative part of the business.
Nokia’s fourth-quarter profit fell 21 percent, to €745 million, or $1 billion. Last week, the company’s new chief executive, Stephen Elop, hinted that radical changes might be coming to Nokia, which he said faced “significant” challenges. Mr. Elop, a former Microsoft executive, said his top priorities were instilling a “challenger mentality” at Nokia and increasing its U.S. market share, currently 2 percent, according to Strategy Analytics.
Neil Mawston, an analyst for Strategy Analytics in Milton Keynes, England, said Symbian still held a narrow lead over Android in the fourth quarter, according to his company’s provisional figures, with 31 percent of shipped cellphones running Symbian and 30 percent using Android. But he said he expected Android to overtake Symbian in the second half of this year.
“The surge in Android devices shows that Nokia’s neglect of the U.S. market has cost it dearly,” Mr. Mawston said. “In less than three years, Symbian has gone from the dominant operating system to a follower, which was unthinkable just a few years ago.”
Mr. Mawston said that in the U.S. market Nokia might be considering adopting Android or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 software, instead of Symbian. Android’s success, he said, only underscored the reality that U.S. technology companies, including Apple and Google, were now setting the pace in the industry.
“Nokia has its work cut out to stop the rot,” he said. “They have to do something radical.”
Mr. Cunningham, the Canalys analyst, said Nokia might be more likely to adopt Windows in the U.S. market instead of Android, which is already widely available on phones made by the market leader, Samsung, and other companies.
A Nokia spokesman, Leo McKay, said the company would not comment on the Canalys report. Nokia is planning to discuss its strategy at an investor conference on Feb. 11 in London.