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Handset OS market shares shifting

The “OS wars,” as some would have it, are alive and well – at least in the data on the various contenders’ shifting market share.
“Symbian is still by far the most popular operating system for smartphones, with about 50% global market share,” said analyst Bonny Joy at Strategy Analytics. “Its share growth is slowing, however, from a peak of 64% market share in 2006 to 53% in 2008.”
In Joy’s view, Symbian went “open source” to combat Android in the no-license-fee game, which should help Symbian maintain its market share.
Among other things, license-free OS platforms for smartphones help operators and vendors manage costs and speed up time-to-market, Joy said.
But Symbian wasn’t built on a “Web 2.0” vision and Android was built from scratch with differentiators from its predecessors, according to the analyst. That view, and market data, informed Strategy Analytics’ view of the OS landscape.
Globally, Symbian held 63% market share in 2007, with Linux hold 10% and Apple Inc.’s OS X garnering 3%. That was a year in which smartphones represented about 11% of total handsets shipped.
This year, that picture shifts to Symbian with 53%, Linux/Android with 11% and Apple with 10%.
Gazing into the crystal ball, Strategy Analytics sees that shift accelerating during the next five years.
By 2012, Strategy Analytics projects that smartphones will comprise 30% of all handsets shipped, or about 452 million out of 1.5 billion handsets. By then Symbian will still hold 39% of the smartphone OS market, with Linux/Android at 22% and Apple at 18%.
But these outcomes are far from certain, Joy acknowledged.
Handset vendors, even as they simplify their platform approach, will still need a variety of platforms to differentiate their offerings. The landscape will not shift dramatically for two to three years, Joy said.
In the United States, however – rapidly assuming a leading position in the mobile technology market – the picture is quite different.
According to data from comScore/M:Metrics, Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry platform leads with the largest installed base of users, followed by Windows Mobile, Palm and Apple. Symbian follows this group, largely due to Nokia Corp.’s lack of presence in the market. But while RIM’s platform has shown 157% annual growth, Apple’s OS X, riding on the phenomenally popular iPhone, is showing a massive 540% annual growth. (Android, which launched last month, had yet to appear to dent this data.)
But because some smartphone OSs – notably, various Linux efforts and Symbian at this stage – are going open source and free, the feature-phone category will begin to be overtaken by similarly priced, smart devices with advanced OSs.
“The big losers here, if you will, are the proprietary OSs on feature phones,” Donovan said. “As smartphone OSs get driven down market, they will displace the feature phone OS.”

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