Instagram founder Kevin Systrom is hailed as a geek god for creating a billion-dollar app in just two years, attracting the attention of Mark Zuckerberg himself and breaking records as Facebook’s largest acquisition–in price and user base–to date. But it’s those fast-rising numbers on Android that helped boost Instagram’s valuation, which was estimated to reach $500 million if the photo app had landed that $50 million funding round it was going after just days before it was acquired.

Android OS ruled China in 2011

Android’s large userbase is a tempting market, even for the elusive Instagram, which spent the majority of its two-year existence as an iPhone-exclusive app. Android’s mobile OS was the top smartphone platform in China last year, growing its share by about 35 percent in the world’s largest market for phones. According to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International, Android took 68.4 percent of the smartphone OS market by the end of 2011, based on the number of devices sold. That’s a 33.6 percent increase from the end of the first quarter of last year, cementing Android’s dominance in China and the international scene at large.

Android’s gains came at the expense of Nokia, whose Symbian OS shares were more than halved to 18.7 percent in 2011. Apple also saw growth, rising from 4.1 percent in the first quarter to 5.7 percent at the end of last year. Android’s strategy around price variation and accessibility worked in China just as well as other global markets, teaming with local device makers ZTE and Huawei for affordable handsets with new contract sign ups.

Android upgrades emulator for better hardware support

And to keep Android’s growth going, Google continues to appeal to developers with a recent upgrade to its Android emulator. One of the biggest improvements is built-in GPU support, taking advantage of hardware acceleration to create a more realistic simulation. There’s also the ability to run OpenGL apps inside the emulator, and tether an Android device to test an app using inputs on the tethered device.

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