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Research firm puts Android at 50 percent of smartphone market by 2015

by Phil Hornshaw

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but that Android thing? Kind of a big deal.

Another market research firm, Gartner this time, has released an analysis that puts Android growing by leaps and bounds in the smartphone market over the next four years. Meanwhile, Symbian will vanish -- seeing as Nokia (NOK) no longer makes new devices that run the operating system -- and Apple’s (AAPL) iOS will do well, but not exceptionally well. Oh, and Windows Phone 7 will take second place in the market.

It all sounded fairly reasonable until that last part.

According to Mashable, Gartner predicts Android to continue its meteoric success, pounding through competing operating systems until at least the middle of the decade. The research firm pegs Android at releasing 468 million smartphone units by the end of this year, putting it at about 38.5 percent of the smartphone market. By the end of 2012, Gartner predicts Android’s share of the market will grow even faster, climbing up to 49.9 percent. Between then and 2015, though, the firm expects Android to drop by 1.1 percent.

That all sounds a little wonky, actually. For context, lets look at the numbers from the last time we did this dance -- which was about three days ago. On Monday, we heard that Android’s market share from November of 2010 to February had grown by 7 percentage points according to comScore, putting Android devices in the hands of about 33 percent of the smartphone market.

So following those numbers, it’s reasonable to see Android hit nearly 40 percent this year -- especially with 4G phones rolling out on Verizon’s (VZ) network, like the HTC (2498.TW) Thunderbolt -- and go up another 10 or 12 percent in 2012. But that prediction, as well as Gartner’s take on iOS, severely downplays some recent changes in the smartphone market.

For one, Gartner doesn’t seem to think the iPhone showing up on Verizon’s network is all that big of a deal, especially since it predicts 19.4 percent of the market for iOS at the end of 2011 and a steady decline after that to 17.2 percent in 2015. It looks like freeing the iPhone up to run on two networks will have a short-term boost for Apple in Gartner’s conception, but that the company will start to lose market share to Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Phone 7.

Gartner is putting a lot of faith behind Microsoft and Nokia becoming real powerhouse players in the smartphone market, and it also seems to think that that partnership will be bad for iOS but have little effect, at least for a while, on Android. That’s interesting, considering the fact that Windows Phone 7 carried only 4.2 percent of the market and is predicted at 5.6 percent at the end of this year. Gartner expects Microsoft to double its market share in 2012, then double it again by 2015. (Also, Nokia’s Symbian will all but disappear and Research In Motion (RIMM), the maker of BlackBerry, will continue its slow slide, losing about 1.2 percent per year).

It’s definitely an interesting conception of the possibilities of the smartphone market. Gartner seems to expect some stagnation, or at least nothing unstoppably compelling, on the part of Apple -- something that’s a little bit hard to conceive of given its track record so far and especially its success with the iPad. Meanwhile, Microsoft will have the power of Nokia’s user base behind it, and could conceivably become pretty powerful.

Still, Gartner’s predicition is a little hard to swallow. It seems to expect Microsoft to make nothing but good moves in the next four years, while Apple will make none at all. I’d expect a lot more unforeseen developments on the parts of Microsoft, Google (GOOG) and Apple (not to mention RIM) going into the next few years.