Time and again, Google's Android (news, site) is proving itself to be a capable mobile platform, and the market seems to agree. According to recent figures by Canalys, Android has already captured almost 50% of the smartphone market globally in the second quarter of 2011, and is dominant in the Asia Pacific region. But what lies ahead for Android?
Canalys tracks market figures in 56 countries, in which Android smartphones top the sales figures in 35 of these. Canalys says that with total sales of 51.9 million units Android takes a total of 48% share in the smartphone market during the period. In contrast, closest mobile competitor iOS (running on iPhones) sold 20.3 million units, with a 19% share, overtaking Nokia's Symbian, which has fallen to the #3 spot.
Battle of the Brands
While Apple is the lone smartphone manufacturer in the iOS ecosystem, Android runs on smartphones and tablets built by several brands including HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and the like. Among Android manufacturers, HTC takes the lead, particularly in the US market, where the Taiwanese company has a 14% share of the smartphone market as per Nielsen. Motorola comes in second at 11%, while Samsung has 8%.
But while Samsung is among today's leading smartphone makers, Canalys analyst Chris Jones says the company could have performed better, particularly with a strong handset lineup like the Galaxy S II and the Google Nexus S. Jones says "Samsung has failed to fully capitalise on Nokia's weakened state around the world, as the Finnish company rides out a challenging transitional period." Note that Nokia is set to launch its first Windows Phone 7 handset within the year and might be able to make a comeback with the WP7 platform if it plays its cards right.
Technology companies are known to be fiercely protective of their technologies, particularly the patents that cover their products. In this regard, the long-standing patent drama between Apple and Samsung has gone through various twists and turns, with both companies suing each other for patent infringement in different jurisdictions. Apple has filed patent infringement complaints with the International Trade Commission and South Korean courts, seeking an injunction against Samsung imports in the United States. Samsung has done the same, and in both countries.
Samsung is not alone, as Apple is also in legal disputes with HTC for their interface design and Amazon for their AppStore Android application store name. Outside of the smartphone debate, HTC seems to have scored a legal win, with Apple having found to be guilty of infringing on two of graphics chipmaker S3's patents with Mac computers. HTC has recently acquired S3 -- and its patents -- from VIA.
It can be noted that Microsoft is said to earn more per Android handset than from its own Windows Phone 7 because of licensing fees from companies like HTC and Motorola. Now this is a mutually-benefit ecosystem between tech companies.
Android and the Law
The patent wars between Apple and Android phone manufacturers are mostly seen as proxy attacks against Google and its Android ecosystem itself. While Apple does not directly attack Google in this case, some companies like Oracle are making claims against Google and Android. Oracle says Google violated its copyright when it directly used some Java code in building Android's Linux underpinnings. The year-old lawsuit has gone through interesting twists and turns recently, as a judge says Oracle should either negotiate or rethink its copyright and patent claims against Google.
It's clear that Android is on the rise as a formidable player in the smartphone market. But you don't get to the top without making a few enemies. With Android on the rise, will this be a sustainable lead? Or will it also reach a golden age, peak and then decline, just like Symbian?