Android leads growing Linux-based phone market

Led by Google Inc.’s Android, Linux-based smart phones will outpace the rate of growth of the overall smart phone market by 2015, according to a new report by ABI Research.


Currently the rate of growth of Linux-based smart phones is 28 per cent, while the total smart phone growth rate is 16 per cent, said Victoria Fodale, senior analyst for mobile devices with ABI Research. Fodale pointed out that in 2015, 33 per cent of the overall smart phone market will be Linux-based devices.


“It’s a good solid number … but right now given activity in the market, it looks probably conservative,” said Fodale.


Among those Linux-based smart phones, Google Android will lead the pack, she said.


That Linux will be a key technology in future mobile devices is significant for the smart phone landscape because it will mean having the capability, through open source communities, to innovate and develop at a much faster pace while reducing research and development costs, said Fodale.


The new report from ABI Research, entitled Mobile Linux, discusses some drivers and inhibitors associated with a fast growing Linux market share.


One driver mentioned is Google Inc.’s success in building momentum around its Android operating system. Another is the mobile Linux ecosystem that continues to “settle” across an entire stack composed of the Linux kernel, middleware and applications.


And, let’s not forget that in the last 12 months two new Linux-based operating systems have emerged to compete with Google Android: MeeGo by Nokia and Intel, and bada by Samsung Electronics Co., said Fodale.


“It’s too early to tell what will happen with these operating systems,” but they are contributing to the activity in the Linux smart phone market, she said.


With Hewlett-Packard Co.’s recent acquisition of Palm Inc., Fodale said the company will want to leverage its investment by spreading out to various markets. HP will likely push webOS in the overall device space that includes smart phones and tablets, thereby fueling the Linux-based smart phone space, said Fodale.


Another factor cited as pushing the Linux market share is the choice of China Mobile to base its proprietary TD-SCDMA network on Google Android.


As for what this all means for makers of proprietary mobile operating systems, Fodale said it comes down to cost and licensing models for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). While there still will be development costs for OEMs, the licensing model for Linux is free. “There is a strong, strong challenge there,” said Fodale.


Companies to watch, according to the report, include Nokia, Verizon, Samsung, Google, China Mobile, Intel and others.


In May, Port Washington, New York-based research firm The NPD Group Inc. found that Google Android continued to shake up the U.S. mobile smart phone market at the start of 2010, surpassing Apple Inc. to assume the second place position behind Research In Motion Ltd.


In Q1 2010, Android held 28 per cent of the market share, RIM held 36 per cent, and Apple was at 21 per cent.


“As in the past, carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role in determining smart phone market share,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD.


Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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