Linux to land on 23% of smartphones by 2013, says ABI

Spurred by support from legions of developers -- as well as from two currently warring industry groups -- Linux will constitute 23 percent of the world smartphone market by 2013, according to analysts at ABI Research.

In an interview with BetaNews Friday, Stuart Carlaw, API Research's VP and research director, noted that, despite their differences, the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) and the LiMo Foundation are both playing key roles in the rise of Linux on handheld devices.

"Google has put a lot of money into the [OHA-backed] Android platform. But there's also a lot of broad-based support for LiMo among handset makers and [other] OEMs," Carlaw told BetaNews.


Linux- and open source-oriented specifications such as Android will help to spawn the considerable development activity anticipated in the years ahead, the analyst predicted.

"Developers will now be able to leverage an application environment that's 'X million' strong," Carlaw remarked. "The application landscape is changing. It will no longer be about, 'I have this application that runs on this phone.' It'll be about, 'There's a whole entirety of applications for [multiple] phones.'"

Beyond the industry standardization now unfolding, Linux and open source environments will also give developers big advantages in application flexibility and scalability, he contended. Instead of operating only on the phone itself, newer phone applications tend to be "blended." "The HTML content coming down the Web requires a more flexiible approach," he explained.

Carlaw also suggested that the ability to access the application stack sparks creativity among open source developers: "They can [easily] do mash-ups between location- and music-based applications."

The scalability of Linux allows developers to produce applications for platforms ranging from mobile handsets -- and maybe even smaller environments -- all the way to Mobile Internet Devices (MID) and much larger devices.

Launched as a new form factor by Intel last fall, MID is a set of specifications for small, Internet capable devices intended to be the culmination of what the company was not able to achieve a year earlier, in its collaboration with Microsoft on the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) specification. Today, MID is generally envisioned as running embedded Linux either instead of or in conjunction with Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

Even if Linux captures 23% of the world market by 2013, Symbian will land in first place, and Linux in the second spot. But in North America, Symbian's share of the smartphone market amounted to merely 4% in 2007, according to ABI.

But analysts' rankings of smartphone hardware and software market shares are changing fast, and measurements vary across different analyst firms.

An ABI report issued in August 2007 showed Nokia at the top of the worldwide list of hardware OEMs. "Nokia's strength also ensures the leading position of Symbian in the mobile market," wrote Shailendra Pandey, another ABI analyst, in a statement at that time. Nokia has also produced Linux-based tablets.

In the North American smartphone space, however, Nokia trailed both RIM and Palm, which together held more than two-thirds of the market, says ABI's report from last August.

By the fourth quarter of 2007, however, Apple ranked fifth in the EMEA "converged devices" OEM market behind Nokia, RIM, HTC, and Motorola -- even though Apple's iPhone only launched in three EMEA countries part-way through the quarter, according to numbers from analyst group Canalys.

In the US market, Apple took a 28% share in Q4 2007, behind RIM but way ahead of Palm, said Canalys researchers.

"This was also enough to put Apple ahead of all Windows Mobile device vendors combined, whose share was 21% in the quarter," according to a report from Canalys.

Now, though, device makers have started to expand into Linux support through both the OHA and LiMo Foundation. OEM members of the OHA include HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and LG.

LiMo Foundation members include Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, and LG. Despite the overlap among OEMs, carrier support differs between the two groups. Mobile carriers belonging to LiMo include Orange, NTT DoCoMo, and Verizon Wireless.

On the corporate side, Apple's iPhone looks to be headed for a rebound in the third quarter, after an apparent slowdown in enthusiasm among IT buyers earlier this year, says a new report from ChangeWave Research.

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