Android topples Symbian, but Apple gets the cash
The latest figures from mobile phone industry watchers paint an amazing story. Google's Android operating system, just a couple of years old, has taken the smartphone market - where just about all the profits are made - by storm. But guess who's actually collecting most of the profits? Not Android but Apple.
First, the sales figures. The research firm Canalys says 2010 was the year the smartphone went mainstream, with sales up by 80%. Throughout the year Android advanced up the league, passing the likes of RIM (makers of the Blackberry) and Apple. But in the final quarter Android smartphones outsold those using Nokia's Symbian operating system, a quite extraordinary achievement.
Nokia, after all, invented the whole idea of a phone as a mini-computer more than a decade ago, with its fabulously expensive Communicator. It went on to dominate the market, and even in 2009 it commanded 46% of all smartphone sales, according to Gartner, with Android having just 3%.
Now the figures for the last quarter of the year showed 32.9 million Android-based phones shipped worldwide, compared with 31 million running on Symbian. Apple was way behind on 16.2 million, just ahead of RIM on 14.6 million.
So a grim story for Nokia, which relaunched Symbian last year but has seen its market dominance evaporate in just a couple of years. Later this month, the Finnish firm will unveil the new strategy worked out by its incoming American CEO Steven Elop. There will again be speculation that Symbian is for the chop, and Nokia could do the unthinkable - and switch to Android.
But surely these figures also look like bad news for Apple? Not if you look at a set of charts produced by a research firm called Asymco. It has examined profits as well as sales for the whole industry - not just the smartphone sector - and it turns out that Apple is eating just about everybody's lunch.
The big blue band in the chart represents Apple's profits, making up about half of the total earnings for the whole industry. By contrast, the returns made by the biggest Android handset maker HTC look meagre, and as for Motorola, makers of the Droid, the thin green line representing its profits is barely visible.
Now Google will not be too worried by this - after all its mission is to get its operating system, its search engine and its mobile ad service onto the handsets of millions of consumers, and that is working. With Android grabbing market share, and the iPhone hauling in huge profits, both Google and Apple can be happy about how the smartphone war is working out. For everyone else, it is becoming a struggle to make an impact or make a profit.