Android shipments in 2014 exceed 1 billion for first time

That gave Google's mobile operating system 81 percent of the worldwide market in 2014, compared with 15 percent for Apple's iOS.

Android devices like the Nexus 6 pictured here are helping the operating system grow. Google

Google's Android mobile operating system has reached a major milestone.

For the first time ever, worldwide shipments of smartphones packing Android exceeded 1 billion units in 2014, a significant gain from the 780.8 million units that shipped around the world in 2013, researcher Strategy Analytics announced Thursday. Android dwarfed its second-place competitor, Apple's iOS, which mustered 192.7 million worldwide shipments in 2014.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The data from Strategy Analytics shows that the worldwide smartphone market -- divvied up by operating system -- is essentially a two-horse race between Apple and Google. But while iOS, which runs only on Apple devices, has a respectable share of 15 percent, it would have a very long way to go to pull significantly closer to Android. Google's operating system is running on far more devices, hits the entry-level market on a variety of fronts with budget-friendly devices, and has proven to be the go-to option for dozens of vendors worldwide.

That said, Apple's been doing all right for itself lately. Strategy Analytics said Wednesday that Apple's share of the global smartphone market -- broken down by brand -- edged up to 20 percent in the fourth quarter, putting it into a tie with Samsung, the leading maker of Android devices. While Apple was ticking upward, though, Samsung had dropped from 30 percent in the same quarter a year earlier.

During the fourth quarter, Apple cruised to record profits largely on phenomenal sales of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. For the same three-month stretch, Samsung recorded its fifth consecutive quarterly decline in operating profit year over year, as its latest models struggled to spark significant interest by consumers.

For all of 2014, Android's record shipments helped propel the entire smartphone market to a record year, growing 30 percent to 1.3 billion units shipped worldwide. According to Strategy Analytics, "emerging markets, such as China and Indonesia, drove the industry's growth last year and will continue to do so through 2015."

It's in those markets that Samsung faces a significant challenge from its Android competitors, including China's surging Xiaomi and other up-and-comers riding the success of low-priced smartphones.

Strategy Analytics also noted that Microsoft's Windows Phone platform was able to nab 3 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. While that still meant nearly 39 million worldwide shipments, Strategy Analytics director Woody Oh said that Microsoft is struggling from having too few "major hardware partners to build its phones." The company also has a poor retail presence in China, Oh said.

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