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Android builds more momentum in smartphone, tablet markets

by Phil Hornshaw

Android picked up a ton of steam in 2010, according to two new reports from industry analysts in the smartphone and tablet computing industries.

Google’s (GOOG) Android surpassed Symbian, an open source operating system from Nokia (NOK), in sales at the end of 2010, making it the most popular OS on smartphones on the planet.

Mashable is reporting on an analysis by research firm Canalys that shows that 33.3 million Android phones were sold world-wide in the fourth quarter of 2010, while Symbian racked up only 31 million. In third place was Apple’s (AAPL) iOS, its iPhone operating system, with 16.2 million units shipped. RIM, (RIMM) the maker of the BlackBerry, shipped 14.6 million units, and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone 7 appeared on 3.1 million phone shipped in the quarter.

The hugeness of Android is something to be expected, given the number of phone makers that employ the operating system. Samsung, HTC, Acer and LG all make Android-based phones, and they appear on several different cellular carriers.

In general, the report shows that the smartphone market continues to explode. It experienced 89 percent more growth in Q4 2010 over the same time in 2009, with more than 100 million units moved for the first time ever.

And while Android is storming the beaches of the smartphone front, it’s also making big gains in tablets, as well. Mashable is also reporting that another research firm, Strategy Analytics, had Android-based tabs gaining market share at the end of 2010.

According to the report, Android tabs gained 22 percent of market share in Q4 2010, which is nearly 10 times the 2.3 percent gain from Q3 2010. Strategy Analytics points to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab as one of the main drivers for the uptick -- Samsung had a record year for profits based largely on the Galaxy Tab and the Galaxy S, it seems. The company sold about 2 million Galaxy Tabs in the last quarter of 2010.

But Apple’s no slouch, either -- 7.3 million iPads were sold in Q4 2010, making up 75 percent of all the tab shipments worldwide for the quarter. But Android’s gains are apparent, since in Q3 2010, the iPad made up 96 percent of tab sales.

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Android is making huge strides, and with more great products on the way, specifically in the tab markets and in gaming -- Sony’s (SNE) Next Generation Portable, which will be able to compete against Android phones, for example -- the platform can become the industry powerhouse that iOS is right now. That’ll mean lots of extra support from outside companies, which will mean great products and great apps for users.

Ars Technica makes a good point, however: Google can’t slack off now. Just because it was tops in Q4, or that it has lots of big partnerships on the way, doesn’t mean the war is won.

In fact, it’s just beginning.

Apple’s showing at the International Consumer Electronics Show 2011 in Las Vegas this month highlights how even unfounded rumor about the company can hijack almost anything -- even as Android was the star of the show, an empty mock-up iPad 2 shell, which couldn’t even be verified, dominated headlines.

The iPad 2 is expected to be announced very soon, and the reality is going to be as big as the hype, if recent history is any indication.

And the iPhone on Verizon will suddenly open the floodgates for more customers to get on the phone than ever before.

So while Android is in good shape, Google, phone makers and app developers need to keep the innovations flowing if they want to maintain the momentum. It’s completely possible -- with each passing day, Android becomes a stronger platform with more to offer than iOS -- but it’s going to take dedication on the parts of the people making the products to keep customers engaged and excited about Android’s possibilities.