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75% of smartphones shipped in Q3 were Android devices

It was a very happy fourth birthday for Google's Android as the mobile operating system took a 75 per cent share of smartphone shipments in the third quarter of 2012, according to IDC.

The Android platform, which Google acquired back in 2005, powered three out of every four smartphones shipped in the world market as judged by the research firm's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The 136 million Android phones shipped in the third quarter represented a 91.5 per cent year-over-year increase in unit shipments from the same period in 2011, when Google's OS was on 71 million shipped units and held a 57.5 per cent market share.

"Android has been one of the primary growth engines of the smartphone market since it was launched in 2008. In every year since then, Android has effectively outpaced the market and taken market share from the competition," IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said in a statement.

"In addition, the combination of smartphone vendors, mobile operators, and end-users who have embraced Android has driven shipment volumes higher. Even today, more vendors are introducing their first Android-powered smartphones to market," Llamas added.

There were two other big gainers by IDC's reckoning. The first will come as no surprise -Apple's iOS increased its share of new shipments by 57.3 per cent, according to the research firm. The iPhone platform, which unlike the multi-vendor supported Android OS is used only on Apple's own smartphones, appeared on 26.9 million new units shipped in the third quarter for a 14.9 per cent share of the market, up from 17.1 million iPhones shipped in the year-ago quarter.

The other big gainer, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, was actually the most impressive in terms of share growth, though the actual volume of phones running WP that were shipped in the quarter remains far behind those shipped by market leaders Google and Apple.

There were 3.6 million Windows Phones shipped in the third quarter, a fraction of the number shipped by the two smartphone OS kingpins and still trailing unit shipments of RIM's BlackBerry handsets (7.7 million units shipped) and Nokia's Symbian devices (4.1 million units shipped). But Microsoft only had its WP platform on 1.5 million phones shipped in the third quarter of 2011 and its current 2 per cent market share, while still tiny, reflects an impressive 140 per cent growth in unit shipments year-over-year.

IDC was cautious in praising that growth, however, noting that "Windows Phone has yet to make a significant dent into Android's and iOS's collective market share," but guessing that Microsoft's handset fortunes "could change in [the fourth quarter] when multiple Windows Phone 8 smartphones will reach the market."

Meanwhile, even as the BlackBerry and Symbian platforms manage to cling to the third and fourth spots in the market, respectively, IDC's assessment of their fortunes in the most recent quarter wasn't pretty. Unit shipments of BlackBerry phones declined 34.7 per cent from the third quarter of 2011 and for Symbian it was even worse - a 77.3 per cent slide.

Off-brand Linux-based phones are a tiny part of the smartphone market but a 31.7 per cent decline in units shipped from last year's third quarter only further highlighted the dominance of Android and iOS. All other smartphone platforms tracked by IDC essentially disappeared in the quarter, going from about 100,000 unit shipments a year ago to effectively zero in the just-concluded period.

"The share decline of smartphone operating systems not named iOS since Android's introduction isn't a coincidence. The smartphone operating system isn't an isolated product, it's a crucial part of a larger technology ecosystem. Google has a thriving, multi-faceted product portfolio," IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said.

"Many of its competitors, with weaker tie-ins to the mobile OS, do not. This factor and others have led to loss of share for competitors with few exceptions."