A new report from research firm Canalys shows that 32.9 million Android-based phones shipped worldwide in the fourth quarter, eclipsing the 31 million Symbian-based phones that shipped over the same period. It was the first time shipments of Android phones had topped shipments of phones based on Symbian, which has long been the most popular mobile operating system in the world.

Canalys says that shipments of Android phones rose by more than 600 per cent year-over-year and Android phones accounted for around 32 per cent of all smart phones shipped in the fourth quarter, up from just less than 9 per cent of all device shipments in the fourth quarter of 2009. Symbian, by contrast, accounted for 44.4 per cent of smart phone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2009 while accounting for 30.6 per cent of smart phone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Apple, which is said to be ramping up iPhone 5, shipped 16.2 million smart phones in the fourth quarter of 2010 (16 per cent of the total share) and finished in third place behind Symbian and Android. Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS finished fourth, totaling 14.6 million smart phone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010, or 14.4 per cent of the total share.

Android’s growth in the mobile operating system has consistently exceeded expectations, as research firm Gartner two years ago had predicted that Symbian would still be the world’s most popular operating system heading into 2012. Although Gartner significantly raised its expectations for Android over the past year, the firm had still projected that Symbian would be the top mobile operating system in the world in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Google first unveiled Android as a Linux-based open-source mobile operating system in late 2007 and it was embraced immediately by carriers Sprint and T-Mobile, with Verizon and AT&T following soon after. Since its debut three years ago, Android has risen rapidly, driven in part by the popularity of devices such as the Motorola Droid and the HTC EVO 4G. Google is currently putting the finishing touches on the 3.0 version of the Android platform, which is being tailored specifically to run applications and software on touchscreen tablet computers.



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