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Android might not be the best-selling OS in smartphones

by Phil Hornshaw

Last month, analysis firm Canalys reported that Android had overtaken Nokia’s Symbian operating system as the best-selling smartphone platform in Q4 2010. But research from another firm contradicts it -- so Android might not have been quite as meteoric in its rise through 2010 as previously believed.

The difference is kind of minuscule, but it’s significant because it means while Android has still be ridiculously successful (that part remains undisputed), it hasn’t quite routed Symbian yet. Actually, the original report had the race pretty close as well, but new information from analysis firm Gartner puts Nokia’s (NOK) Symbian ahead by about 42 million units worldwide.

Android still moved 67 million smartphones in Q4 (Symbian clocked-in with 111 million), and the real story was about growth. If you break down the statistics, Android saw an 888.8 percent increase in sales in 2010, according to Mashable’s report. It took 22.7 percent of the total market (up from 3.9 percent in 2009), while Symbian fell to 37.6 percent, down from 46.9 last year.

As the original report showed, Google’s (GOOG) Android is still exploding. But clearly Symbian can’t be counted out just yet, and despite Android taking a huge bite out of its market share this year, it didn’t manage to pass it -- just get close enough to tap it on the shoulder and smile menacingly.

Apple’s (AAPL) iOS also continues to gain steam, although the growth is much slower. It took 15.7 percent of the smartphone market in 2010, up from 14.3 in ‘09. It has nearly overtaken RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerry, which sits just ahead with 16 percent and dropped from 19.9 in 2009.

Obviously, 2010 is going to have some interesting effects on those numbers. Android is getting better every day, what with in-app purchases coming down the pipe and the new web Market already available. That’s to say nothing of new devices and the expansion of Verizon's 4G LTE network.

Big news on the horizon?

But Nokia isn’t sitting on its hands, and neither is anyone else. In a recent internal memo, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop outlined what he sees as the company’s failures, and is expected to announce a new strategy for the company tomorrow. Rumor has it, Nokia is creating a partnership with Microsoft (MSFT) and planning to switch to the Windows Phone 7 OS, which would expand that system’s exposure substantially. If Symbian’s market share suddenly merges with Microsoft, expect to see some big changes in store for Windows Phone 7, as well, as it tries to become more visible and relevant.

And then there’s Apple. Today saw the opening of the floodgates of iPhone on Verizon (VZ), which will mean a huge influx of customers to iOS. The addition of a new carrier could basically double the capability of the iPhone to compete against other smartphones -- it’ll be interesting to see how the change effects the smartphone market.

If 2010 is any indication, 2011 is going to be extremely interesting for the smartphone market. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Google and its compatriots do to convince customers to head to its OS.