Apple's iOS grows to 23% of worldwide smartphone shipments

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Apple continues to gain share in the worldwide smartphone market, as the latest data shows the iOS mobile operating system accounted for nearly a quarter of all smartphones shipped in the first quarter of 2012.

The IDC data issued on Thursday shows once again that the smartphone operating system competition has become a two-horse race between Apple's iOS, which is limited to three available iPhone models, and Google Android, which is found on a number of devices from multiple handset makers on virtually all carriers. Apple saw its market share increase from 18.3 percent of smartphones shipped in the first quarter of 2011, to 23 percent in the first three months of 2012.

Android saw even greater gains year over year, rocketing from 36.1 percent of smartphones shipped at the start of 2011 to 59 percent of shipments in the first quarter of 2012. Total estimated unit shipments for Android smartphones were 89.9 million for the quarter, compared with 35.1 million iPhones for Apple.

While iOS and Android saw gains to start 2012, all other mobile platforms lost share over the last year. The hardest hit was Nokia's Symbian platform, which dropped from 26 percent of smartphones in the first quarter of 2011 to just 6.8 percent of shipments last quarter.

Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS also tumbled from 13.6 percent a year ago to 6.4 percent to start 2012. And Microsoft's Windows Phone platform slid from 2.6 percent in 2011 to just 2.2 percent of shipments in the first quarter of 2012.

"The popularity of Android and iOS stems from a combination of factors that the competition has struggled to keep up with," said Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Phone Technology and Trends program. "Neither Android nor iOS were the first to market with some of these features, but the way they made the smartphone experience intuitive and seamless has quickly earned a massive following."

Total smartphone shipments for the quarter were 152.3 million units, which was up 49.9 percent from the 101.6 million shipped a year ago. In terms of units shipped, Microsoft's Windows Phone platform actually grew year over year to 3.3 million, even though its share of the overall market was smaller.

"In order for operating system challengers to gain share, their creators and hardware partners need to secure developer loyalty," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program. "This is true because developer intentions or enthusiasm for a particular operating system is typically a leading indicator of hardware sales success."