Android looks like the big winner from Nokias plan to drop the Symbian OS. So should your mobile strategy now focus on Android?

UPDATED 08 April 2011: to include Gartner’s projections for smartphone sales. Confirms IDC’s expectation that Android will become the dominant smartphone operating system, now Nokia has abandoned Symbian.

Nokia’s surprising decision to dump Symbian, its smartphone operating system (OS), in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Phone has left a gulf that the Android OS is all too ready to fill, if IDC and Gartner have their predictions for smartphone sales correct. (See the table below for all projections). So if it is going to be the boss, should you bet your future mobile strategy on Android?

Analyzing the numbers

Both analyst outfits expect strong growth in sales of smartphones, with 450 million (IDC) to 468 million (Gartner) being sold in 2011 that’s a 49.2 percent (IDC) to 57.7 percent (Gartner) compared to 2010. The market will continue to grow albeit at a slower rate through to 2015. Neither analyst is telling us if they expect smartphones sales to overtake feature phone sales by 2015 (which is a little frustrating).

Android OS is expected to take the number one spot from Symbian this year, with a 38.5 percent (Gartner) to 39.5 percent (IDC) share of the smartphone market, and it could power almost half the world’s smartphones by 2015 with 45.4 percent (IDC) to 48.8 percent (Gartner) market share.
To put this in a better perspective, it helps to know Android’s market share in 2010 and 2009. IDC doesn’t provide these numbers, so we need to rely on data from Gartner. In 2010, Gartner put Android in second place with a 22.7 percent share of the market, up from fifth place in 2009 with a 3.9 percent share. That’s impressive growth – with this momentum, it is possible Android might have overtaken Symbian anyway… but not by the huge margin that IDC or Google is forecasting in 2011.
• Note: while everyone describes it as Google’s Android, it is, strictly speaking, the Open Handset Alliance (OPA)’s Android. The OS was developed by the OPA, though the Android company was owned (through acquisition) by Google. The OPA currently has 80 members, including 20 handset manufacturers. It is the sheer number of manufacturers behind Android that has created the momentum.

In 2010, Symbian was the number-one smartphone operating system by a country mile, with 37.6 percent market share, according to Gartner. This was largely thanks to Nokia selling over 100 million smartphones – that’s more than RIM and Apple combined (source: IDC). According the forecasts, Symbian’s market share is predicted to tumble in 2011 to 19.2 percent (Gartner) to 20.9 percent (IDC) of smartphone sales, as Nokia de-commits from the platform.
• Note: Symbian, not unlike Android, started out as an independent OS that was licensed to many mobile manufacturers, such as LG Electronics, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Originally ownership was shared between the main stakeholders, but by the end of 2008 Nokia owned all of Symbian. Since then the licensees have fallen away (the four mentioned above are now all OPA members). Today the largest remaining Symbian licensee after Nokia is Fujitsu.

By 2015, Nokia will have shifted its smartphones from Symbian to Microsoft’s Windows (the first Nokia/Windows phone is expected in 2012), and Windows Phone is predicted to become the number two OS with 19.5 percent (Gartner) to 20.9 percent (IDC) market share. Notably a lot less than Symbian’s market share in 2010.
• Note: Windows Phone will have other licensees, but it is not clear from the Microsoft site who these might be. (Can anyone help with this?)

Interestingly IDC does not predict iOS or Blackberry to improve market share as Symbian declines. In both 2011 and 2015 Apple’s iOS and RIM’s BlackBerry remain number three and four in smartphone OS share both with a small decline in market share. Gartner expects iOS to make gains in 2011, even selling slightly more phones than Symbian, but will gradually lose market share to 2015. Gartner expects a more pronounced decline in BlackBerry share in 2011 through to 2015.
• Note: iOS and BlackBerry are only used in the smartphones of their parent companies, unlike Android and Windows, which are licensed to a number of different manufacturers.

Worldwide smartphone operating system (OS) market share in 2009-2015, according to Gartner   Smartphone OS market share and compound annual growth rate 2011-2015, according to IDC
(listed alphabetically)
market share
market share
market share
market Share
market share
market Share
Android 3.9% 22.7% 38.5% 48.8%   39.5% 45.4% 23.8%
BlackBerry 19.9% 16.0% 13.4% 11.1%   14.9% 13.7% 17.1%
iOS 14.4% 15.7% 19.4% 17.2%   15.7% 15.3% 18.8%
Symbian 46.9% 37.6% 19.2% 0.1%   20.9% 0.2% -65.0%
Windows Phone/Mobile 8.7% 4.2% 5.6% 19.5%   5.5% 20.9% 67.1%
Others 6.1% 3.8% 3.9% 3.3%   3.5% 4.6% 28.0%
Total smartphones sold 172 million 297 million 468 million 631 million   450 million N/A 19.6%
Source: Gartner (April 2011)

Source: IDC (March 2011) via: mobiThinking

So what does this all mean for your mobile strategy?

It’s a fair assumption that the companies that focused their mobile strategy solely on download (native) mobile apps for the Apple platform will be scratching their heads as they look at IDC’s predictions and be asking should we focus on Android instead?

This would be a mistake. Here’s why:

1) You would be ignoring the vast majority of mobile consumers who don’t and won’t be using an Android phone.
Even though Android is an open platform that is backed by 80 mobile companies (rather than one, in the case of iOS) and on IDC’s expectations it looks like the number of mobile users with Android smartphones will dwarf those with Apple, it is still just one type of smartphone and the smartphone is just one type of mobile device.
Neither IDC nor Gartner have publishing its expectations for total mobile phone sales (i.e. feature phones and smartphones for 2011. But even if sales remain constant at the 2010 level of 1,388 million (source: IDC), which they won’t, of course, while smartphones grow at 49.2 percent (as IDC predicts) to 450 million, then smartphones sales would still only be 32.4 percent of mobile phone sales and Android would be 11 percent of mobile phones… at best.
Put that another way if you focus solely on Android, you are ignoring the 89 percent (at least) of your customers, who choose to use a different mobile device.

2) In the mobile business expect the unexpected.
Who would have predicted five years ago that a Linux-based open-source smartphone OS would come from nowhere to become the main contender, while all Symbian’s licensees deserted it. Who is to say for certain that in another five years the status quo couldn’t change again?

3) You don’t need to.
Advances in HTML 5 mean that many of the perceived advantages of downloadable mobile apps can, or will shortly, be delivered by mobile Web apps. Brower-based apps are largely operating-system agnostic. This means you don’t need to build a download app for each mobile platform, just tailor you mobile Web site/app to exploit the features of each type of access device. Plus, you don’t need to relinquish control of your customers or give 30 percent of app proceeds to an app store.
In fact, Android’s most influential backer, Google, backs Web apps over native apps in the long-term.

• For an independent view of the advantages of each type of app, see: Native v Web apps.

Follow mobiThinking on Twitter: @mobithinking

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