As it turns five, Android solidifies its smartphone OS dominance

The operating system has survived challenges like legal battles and platform fragmentation

By , IDG News Service |  

Five years after its inception, Android is more dominant than ever in the smartphone OS market, despite facing a number of challenges along the way.

Android has endured legal battles, platform fragmentation, security issues and user complaints over upgrade delays. But none of these issues has so far seriously impacted its market share and sales, which reached record levels during the third quarter. A total of 136 million Android-based smartphones shipped around the world, giving Google's OS a 75 percent market share, according to IDC.

"The decline of RIM, lack of Windows Phone sales and the late launch of the iPhone 5 all had a positive impact on Android sales and market share," said Francisco Jeronimo, research manager at IDC.

Apple's iOS was the second largest operating system with a 14.9 percent market share.

"People say that the fragmentation is a mess, and there is some merit to that argument, but it is also indicative of Android's success," said Geoff Blaber, who leads the mobile device software research at CCS Insight.

The patent wars continue to be a threat to Android's future, and the nightmare scenario is increasing the costs of developing phones based on the OS.

"If suddenly you have got a whole lot of IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] issues and you've got to pay Apple half of your profits, everyone is going to say, perhaps I am not going to support Android anymore and maybe I'll go with Microsoft instead," said mobile analyst Richard Windsor, who blogs at Radio Free Mobile.

Android was unveiled on Nov. 5, 2007, when Google, T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm and Motorola and almost 30 other companies joined forces to announce the development of the open source OS.

About two years earlier Google had acquired Android, the company, whose co-founder Andy Rubin is still in charge of developing the operating system. It took another year before the first smartphone -- the T-Mobile G1 -- arrived. Android's success wasn't immediate, but by the end of 2010 it had become the most popular smartphone operating system.

Android's impressive ascent is due to several factors.

"Android's timing was perfect in that the iPhone had reset expectations, but that was specific to one product and the carriers needed a counter to Apple's success. At the same time Symbian was struggling," said Blaber.

The cost of using the operating system also helped, according to Windsor.

"One thing that galvanized everyone to, at least, consider it was the fact Android was freely available," Windsor said.

That meant not having to pay for a software license, and the possibility to "hack the code to pieces," he added.

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