The Android operating system may soon own nearly 50 percent of the smartphone market, Gartner said today.
According to the market researcher, more than 296 million smartphones shipped last year. Out of that, Symbian secured 37.6 percent market share, followed by Android's 22.7 percent share, and BlackBerry OS with 16 percent of the market. In 2011, the number of smartphone shipments around the world will explode to nearly 468 million units. That growth will help Android snag 38.5 percent market share by the end of the year, followed by Apple's iOS at 19.4 percent, and Symbian at 19.2 percent, Gartner said.
But it's next year that might just be the most eye-opening find in Gartner's analysis. According to the company, more than 630 million smartphones will ship worldwide in 2012, and Android will own 49.2 percent of the market, easily dominating its second-place competitor, iOS, with 18.9 percent share. Research In Motion's BlackBerry operating system will nab the third spot with 12.6 percent share of the smartphone space.
Gartner offered up another surprise in its forecasts: in 2015, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform will secure the second spot in the smartphone space with 19.5 percent market share. It will follow Android's 48.8 percent market ownership.
Gartner said it pushed Windows Phone sales up "solely by virtue of Microsoft's alliance with Nokia," which the companies entered into earlier this year. Likely starting next year, Nokia will use Windows Phone 7 as the "principal" operating system on its smartphones.
Debate rages over Windows Phone's future market share.
Last week, IDC released its own forecasts for the 2015 smartphone market and reported that Android would secure 45.4 percent of the space. It believes Windows Phone will follow with 20.9 percent market share. Like Gartner, IDC said the deal between Microsoft and Nokia will be enough to push Windows Phone to greater heights.
"Up until the launch of Windows Phone 7 last year, Microsoft has steadily lost market share while other operating systems have brought forth new and appealing experiences," Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst on IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team, said in a statement at the time. "The new alliance brings together Nokia's hardware capabilities and Windows Phone's differentiated platform...By 2015, IDC expects Windows Phone to be the No. 2 operating system worldwide behind Android."
However, ABI Research wasn't so quick to agree. That research firm said last week it expects Android to grab 45 percent of the smartphone market by 2016 and be followed by Apple's 19 percent market share. It pegged Windows Phone's share at 7 percent.
Speaking to CNET last week, ABI Research senior analyst Michael Morgan said that customers around the world are moving away from Nokia devices and they won't even consider going back. That belief, he says, makes the difference between his estimates and those of the other research firms.
"In 2011, Symbian is going to start to deflate rapidly," Morgan said. "I believe that a lot of Nokia users will convert to a new OS platform and stay there--they won't go back."
Either way, 2015 is shaping up to be a big year for every major smartphone maker, regardless of market share. According to Gartner, a whopping 1.1 billion smartphones will ship in 2015 alone.