Is a Shakeout Due for Smartphone OS Vendors?

As smartphone sales begin to overtake feature phones in popularity, the struggle among leading smartphone vendors appears to be moving rapidly towards a shakeout, according to new survey data.

Sales of mobile devices in general in the second quarter grew by a modest 16.5 percent over the same period a year ago to a total of 428.7 million units, but smartphone sales surged by 74 percent, accounting for 25 percent of all mobile devices sold, a new report from Gartner said.

The big winner, as might be expected, was Google's Android operating system, which jumped from third place with a 17.2 percent market share in the second quarter of 2010, to first place this year with a share of 43.4 percent -- a gain from 10.7 million units last year to 46.9 million in 2011.

Much of Android's gain came from a severe drop in sales of Nokia's Symbian-based smartphones as the Finnish handset maker moves to switch its smartphones over to exclusively run Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, which isn't expected to begin in earnest until late this year at the earliest.

"Consumers in mature markets are choosing entry-level and midrange Android smartphones," Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "The sales efforts of the channel, combined with Nokia's greater concentration in retail and distributors' sales, saw Nokia destock more than 9 million units overall and 5 million smartphones," Cozza added.

Meanwhile, with Symbian holding onto a shrinking second place in market share, business has been very good for number three Apple's iOS, which sold 10.9 million more units than during the year ago period, when it sold 8.7 million units.

"Google and Apple are the obvious winners in the smartphone ecosystem ... These two OSs have the usability that consumers enjoy, the apps that consumers feel they need, and increasingly a portfolio of services delivered by the platform owner as well," the Gartner report said.

None of the shifts in fortune appear to portend much about Microsoft's long-term possibilities yet, though, as its future market share also hinges on the success of its deal with Nokia to replace Symbian on the handset maker's smartphones.

However, short-term trends for Windows Phone have not appeared promising to date.

Microsoft sold 1.7 million Windows Phone licenses for the second quarter, down from 3.06 million in the same period in 2010. That's a decline from 4.9 percent share this time last year as opposed to 1.6 percent this year.

Gartner forecasts an overall growth rate in sales of mobile devices for 2011 of approximately 12 percent.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.