Android ships on over half of the world's smartphones

Gartner has announced that Apple’s iPhone was by far the world’s most popular smartphone during the last quarter of 2011 – but failed to mention Cupertino is in a very difficult fight against Android.

Although Apple’s iPhone took an impressive 23.8 percent of the market share for all smartphones sold, the company is only winning in a race as manufacturer. The world and its dog agree that battles won’t be won in hardware alone, and that the real struggle for pole position is in the ecosystem. Apple has enjoyed being at the top because it was the first aggressive push into the mobile market, but will soon find that its closed approach isn’t doing it any favours.

Late Apple boss Steve Jobs was famously furious about Android, pledging his company’s vast fortunes to serve as coffers for a  “thermonuclear war” against it. Apple’s worries about Google are evident in the long list of patent infringement cases it is using to drag manufacturers through the courts. Executives in Cupertino know full well that they have a challenger which is inherently more attractive to potential customers that haven’t been won over by Apple’s marketing.

In Gartner’s manufacturer list, Nokia and Samsung still pipped it to making the most mobile device sales. They are followed by Apple and then some intriguing newcomers to the western market in ZTE and Huawei. ZTE and Huawei, both from China, have been on an extensive and aggressive marketing and sales campaign for a couple of years now. If they continue as they are, they’re likely to become very real challengers to the big players. 

Gartner concedes that Android is absolutely devouring the market for operating systems, being on just over half of all devices sold. This is exactly Google’s plan: by offering a free, and increasingly swish OS for manufacturers to stick on their devices, it has flooded the market with excellent software for little cost.

The sticking point for Android is the royalties that must be paid to Microsoft for each device sold. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that without that bump in the road, and Apple’s frenzied legal attacks, Android would be close to winning the war already.

What is interesting in the list for Apple is how popular its devices have become in the corporate markets, where RIM spectacularly fell from grace.