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Android claims top spot over Symbian in global smartphone shipments

Worldwide smart phone marketBritish research firm Canalys announced today that Android has officially dethroned Symbian as the world’s most popular smartphone platform. The Nokia-backed OS has long-held the top spot, but Canalys reports that “Shipments of Android-based smartphones reached 32.9 million, while devices running Nokia’s Symbian platform trailed slightly at 31.0 million worldwide.”

Nokia only just reclaimed Symbian operations in November after manufacturers were being lured away by Android. The platform has struggled recently to compete against the likes of RIM, Android, and Apple, and developer interest in the OS has waned. Still, Nokia has resisted jumping on bored with Android because, it claims, the OS doesn’t allow manufacturers enough room to define their brands.

While Nokia and Symbian have undeniably struggled, particularly with North American consumers, it’s important to note that the numbers from Canalys reflect handsets shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010. Nokia remains the number one global smartphone retailer, with a market share of 28 percent (The New York Times claims this number is actually 31 percent, according to Boston research firm Strategy Analytics). But despite its overall global presence, Nokia knows it can only ride its former popularity for so long, and warns investors its profit margin will drop somewhere between seven and 10 percent. The cell phone maker revealed fourth quarter numbers, saying it gave a “solid performance,” but admitted “the industry changed, and now it’s time for Nokia to change.” This seems to reference the fact that it’s been unable to offer a competent high-end smartphone OS thus far, and CEO Stephen Elop will share Nokia’s new strategy for Symbian and Meego at next month’s Mobile World Congress. This new strategy could include partnering with Microsoft on a new Windows Phone 7 model, which has been rumored recently.

But Android’s success isn’t only in thanks to Symbian’s struggle. Canalys noted that strong sales from retailers like LG, Samsung, Acer, and HTC are also responsible.

Overall market growth was additionally phenomenal this year. Over 2010, shipments reached 101.2 million and in the fourth quarter, skyrocketed to an 80 percent growth since 2009. The US also shipped the most handheld devices, with RIM, Apple, and HTC taking top spots.

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