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Samsung becomes biggest smartphone vendor, as Android's market share grows

Over half of all smartphones sold in the third quarter ran Android, according to Gartner

Samsung became the biggest smartphone vendor in the world during the third quarter, and Android's market share has surpassed 50 percent for the first time, market research company Gartner said on Tuesday as it reported on phone sales to end-users.

Worldwide smartphone sales totalled 115 million units in the third quarter of 2011, up 42 percent from the third quarter of 2010. However, smartphone sales slowed compared to the second quarter, a consequence of the economic situation and of consumers holding out for new models, including the iPhone 4S, according to Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner.

Android and Samsung were the big winners among smartphone operating systems and vendors, respectively.

Samsung became the worldwide number one for the first time, selling 24 million smartphones, three times as many as it sold during the third quarter last year.

Samsung's support for Android, and the availability of a wide variety of low-cost smartphones running the OS, helped Android grab a 52.5 percent share of the market: 60.5 million smartphones based on the various versions of the OS were sold, according to Cozza.

Worldwide, Nokia is still the second biggest smartphone vendor and Symbian the second most popular smartphone OS. Consumers bought 19.5 million Symbian-based smartphones, giving the OS a 17 percent market share. Smartphones based on Symbian are still popular in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Nokia's first smartphone running Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, the Lumia 800, has gone on sale in Germany, and will go on sale France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK later this month. Microsoft reached a new low during the third quarter as its operating system software now only has a 1.5 percent share of the smartphone market.

To compete with the Google camp and Apple, Nokia needs to expand its product portfolio and work with Microsoft on more ways to differentiate from the competition, according to Cozza. At the same time, Microsoft needs to add support for hardware features like LTE (Long-Term Evolution), which is becoming increasingly important.

"We don't expect to see a major impact on sales until the second half of 2012," said Cozza.

Apple sold about 17 million iPhones in the third quarter, an annual increase of 21 percent, but down nearly 3 million units from the second quarter of 2011, perhaps because potential buyers were waiting for the launch of the iPhone 4S, which came in the fourth quarter. That makes iOS still the third most popular OS, with a 15 percent market share, and Apple the third biggest smartphone vendor.

Now that the iPhone 4S has been released and is doing well, Cozza expects Apple to bounce back during the last three months of 2011. With the iPhone 4S and the lower pricing of older iPhone models, Apple is a formidable competitor, according to Cozza.

During the fourth quarter, the battle between the Android camp and Apple will be especially cutthroat in the U.S. HTC won the top spot during the third quarter, but Apple in second place and Samsung in third place are just behind, Cozza said.

Microsoft wasn't the only OS vendor heading downward: Research In Motion (RIM) recorded new market share lows in both the U.S. and worldwide, at 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively. It sold 12.7 million units, enough to make RIM the fourth-largest smartphone maker, and BlackBerry OS the fourth largest OS, according to Gartner's data.

HTC may the biggest smartphone vendor in the U.S, but the company is only the fifth-largest vendor worldwide. It sold about 12 million smartphones.

Beyond smartphones, worldwide sales of all types of phones totaled 440.5 million units in the third quarter, up 5.6 percent from the same period last year. The five biggest vendors are Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics, Apple and ZTE.

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