Android will trail only Symbian in mobile phone market share by 2013, according to IDC. Android phones such as the pictured Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, which is now heading for NTT DoCoMo, will grow 150.4 percent to 68.0 million units by 2013, but other Linux-based phones will struggle, says IDC.
Starting from only 690,000 units in 2008, total handset shipments of phones with the open source Linux-based Android OS will reach 68.0 million units by 2013, second only to Symbian, says IDC. The 150.4 percent projected growth rate is said to be the highest for the period.
The firm did not list figures for other OSes, but noted that Android will benefit from "having a growing footprint of handset vendors supporting it." As for Symbian, it will continue to stay strong due to Nokia's strength outside the U.S., says IDC, which made no mention of the impact of Symbian's transition to open source.
The sheer number of vendors and carriers offering Android phones offers an advantage to the platform, ensuring that for every phone that fails to meet expectations — and there have been very few of those in the Android camp — chances are that another will be a break-out hit like Verizon's Droid by Motorola.
Android is also reaching out globally. For example, Last Thursday, Sony Ericsson announced that its high-end Xperia X10 (pictured at right) will be sold in Japan by NTT DoCoMo as the Xperia SO-01B, starting in April. The Qualcomm Snapdragon-based phone features a 4-inch WVGA touchscreen and a 8.1-megapixel camera.
While Android soars, other Linux phones "will struggle throughout the forecast period," says IDC, and will "trend down due to greater emphasis on the Android platform." Palm's Linux-based WebOS distribution found on the Palm Pre (pictured at left) and the Palm Pixi, will do somewhat better than other Linux mobile OS variants, IDC appears to suggest, but despite steady growth, "will capture limited market share due to limited deployment and availability of devices across multiple carriers," says the study.
Aside from WebOS, Linux-based phones include Nokia's Maemo-based N900, Garmin-Asus' Nuvifone G60, as well as dozens of smartphones that adhere to the LiMo Foundation's LiMo spec, including the Samsung-made Vodafone 360 H1 and the upcoming First Else phone from Emblaze Mobile. The list will also include LG's upcoming GW990 smartphone, which runs Moblin on an Intel Moorestown processor platform.
The IDC study also projects that smartphones, which it describes as "converged devices," will surpass 390 million units by 2013, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9 percent during the period. It was unclear how this compared with the total mobile market. The study appears to suggest that the previously mentioned OS forecasts represent the mobile handset market in general, rather than smartphones only.
According to IDC, mobile OSes are increasingly become more of a differentiator for smartphones than hardware features. "Mobile operating systems have become the key ingredient in the highly competitive mobile device market," stated Stephen D. Drake, VP, Mobility and Telecom at IDC. "Although the overall look and feel of the device will still play an important role in the buying process, the wrong choice of operating system coupled with an awkward user interface can mean the difference between success and failure."
ChangeWave: Android fever erupts out of nowhere
IDC's findings appear to match up with other research studies on Android over the last year, which have similarly pegged Android as the fastest growing mobile OS. Recently, investment research firm ChangeWave reported that in its Dec. 9-14 survey of 4,068 consumers, four percent of smartphone owners said they were using Android, up three percentage points from its September survey.
Meanwhile, 21 percent of those planning to buy a smartphone within 90 days told ChangeWave they would prefer an Android handset, up 15 percentage points since September. In the "plan to buy" metric, Android was second only to the iPhone, which, at 28 percent, fell four points from a September study, according to the firm. RIM's BlackBerry, meanwhile, inched up from 17 to 18 percent, while Windows Mobile and Palm's WebOS both ticked down, from nine to six percent for WinMo, and from six to three percent for WebOS, ChangeWave added.
Back to you, Bachman
The IDC and ChangeWave studies provide an interesting coda to the comments from Microsoft mobile boss Robbie Bach about mobile Linux. According to a David Coursey story in PCWorld, Bach told financial analysts at CES that Linux-based handsets would fail the "quality" test and not gain market traction. After counting 17 Linux variants now available on handsets (including Android), Bach was said to have predicted that carriers will reject some Linux mobile operating systems because they complicate support issues.
The Bachman quote that apparently raised the hackles of many in the Linux mobile community read as follows, according to Coursey: "In particular the 17 versions of Linux they have on feature phones, all of which are a little quirky and a little different, require separate network certifications, network product support, and the like that goes along with that."
Quirky, but profitable
Last week, the Linux Foundation's executive director Jim Zemlin responded to Bachman's comments in a blog entry noting that Gartner pegged Windows Mobile's market share as falling to 7.9 percent in the third quarter of 2009, down from 11.1 percent in the same quarter of 2008. Zemlin then goes on to detail several advantages of Linux-based mobile OSes, including the lack of high per-device charges and "draconian branding and licensing restrictions."
Zemlin admits that working with Linux was "probably," as Bachman suggests, more complex than working with Windows Mobile. However, this is only because "manufacturers actually have to make a choice in what technology they use and how they brand their products, instead of getting the technology and pricing dictated to them from Redmond," writes Zemlin. He concludes that launching a Linux-based phone may be more complex, but "it's also more profitable."
The IDC study, "Worldwide Mobile OS 2009-2013 Forecast and Analysis," (IDC #220733) is available now, says IDC. The study is said to include reviews each of the major mobile OSes, including drivers, opportunities, and potential challenges, and also profiles the principal high-level OS platforms. More information may be found at IDC's website, here.
The Sony Ericcson press release on its upcoming NTT DoCoMo launch for the Xperia should be here.
The ChangeWave report on its December smartphone survey should be here.
This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.