Mobile OS wars: Symbian leads globally; Mac OS X surges

A new report from Gartner shows Symbian still holds nearly half the market in mobile operating systems, but other OSes are quickly rising in market share and developer attention.

This was originally published at ZDNet's Between the Lines.

Gartner has tallied the global smartphone sales by operating system, and the results put Symbian as the top dog with market share of 47.1 percent with RIM's BlackBerry OS a distant second at 19.5 percent.

Here's a look at the figures for the fourth quarter:

Mobile OS figures for Q4 from Gartner

And 2008:

Mobile OS figures for 2008 from Gartner

The statistics are a very relevant followup to my post on Wednesday trying to sort out what platforms developers will ultimately pick. After all, each of these platforms will have marketplaces and there are only so many developers. And all of these platforms will be vying for share in what is expected to be a down market. IDC said Thursday that it expects global mobile phone shipments to fall 8.3 percent in 2009. So-called converged device shipments are expected to increase 3.4 percent globally.

What's notable is that our unscientific poll revealed that few people saw Symbian as an operating system worth betting on.

Based on market share it appears that developers should be focused on creating applications for Symbian, Research in Motion, Windows Mobile, and the iPhone and iPod Touch as a turbo charge for growth. Palm remains too much of a wild card.

However, that decision isn't all that easy to make. Excluding Symbian, the mobile operating systems are bunched together in market share. For 2008, Mac OS X had growth of 245.7 percent, according to Gartner. The BlackBerry platform had the second best growth at 96.7 percent. Clearly, growth dictates focusing efforts on those two platforms.

Other notable points from Gartner's tally:

  • Fourth quarter global smartphone units were 38.1 million, up 3.7 percent from a year ago. For 2008, 139.3 million smartphones were sold, up 13.9 percent from a year ago.

  • Nokia had market share of 40.8 percent in the smartphone market at the end of the fourth quarter with RIM second at 19.5 percent. Apple had 10.7 percent.

  • In the fourth quarter, Linux-based smartphone sales were up 19 percent from a year ago due to Android-based T-Mobile phones.