By Jennifer LeClaire / Top Tech News. Updated February 25, 2015.
Reading market research firm IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Tracker, you might get the idea that Android and iOS are the only two mobile operating systems on the market. Well, they aren't the only ones, but they are dominating the landscape.
Android and iOS together own 96.3 percent of smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the report. That's not groundbreaking news, considering the two owned 95.6 percent of the market in the period a year ago. But it demonstrates how fiercely these mobile operating systems are competing.
"Many of the same drivers were in play for Android and iOS to tighten their grip on the market," said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC's Mobile Phone team. "A combination of strong end-user demand, refreshed product portfolios, and the availability of low-cost devices -- particularly for Android -- drove volumes higher.
Although Samsung has shown some recent weakness, Android is standing strong. In 2014, the mobile operating system hit a significant milestone, moving past the 1 billion unit mark. Total Android volumes in 2014 actually outpaced total smartphone volumes in 2013.
Samsung still leads the market by a wide margin, despite flat volumes, shipping more volume than the next five vendors combined. Asian vendors like Huawei, Lenovo (including Motorola), LG Electronics, Xiaomi, and ZTE fueled the most growth for Google's platform, according to IDC.
"What will bear close observation is how the two operating systems fare in 2015 and beyond," said Llamas. "Now that Apple has entered the phablet market, there are few new opportunities for the company to address. Meanwhile, Samsung experienced flat growth in 2014, forcing Android to rely more heavily on smaller vendors to drive volumes higher."
As for Apple, iOS market share declined slightly in 2014 even as volumes reached a new record and grew at nearly the same pace as the overall smartphone market, IDC reported. The research firm attributes much of this to the strong demand for Apple's new and larger iPhones and the especially warm welcome they had within key markets. IDC is keeping a close eye on how Apple will sustain demand going forward, considering bigger screens were among the last gaps in its product portfolio.
"Instead of a battle for the third ecosystem after Android and iOS, 2014 instead yielded skirmishes, with Windows Phone edging out BlackBerry, Firefox, Sailfish and the rest, but without any of these platforms making the kind of gains needed to challenge the top two," said Melissa Chau, Senior Research Manager with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.
What About The Rest?
IDC reported that Windows Phone had the smallest year-over-year increase among the leading operating systems with just 4.2 percent growth. Of course, that's well below the overall market. After the Nokia acquisition in 2014, Microsoft relied primarily on entry-level Lumia devices to maintain its market position. Redmond also looked to its partners HTC and Samsung to serve up products on the high-end of the market. With the launch of Windows 10 later this year, Windows Phone stands to make a more concerted effort to return to the high end of the market, IDC said.
Finally, BlackBerry posted a year-over-year decline, falling -69.8% from 2013 levels, according to IDC. The firm pointed to CEO John Chen's estimation that BlackBerry will ship 10 million units in 2015. If he's right, that would return the company to profitability and mark a 72 percent increase over the 5.8 million units shipped in 2014.
Chau said the battle isn't over yet, especially in lower-end markets: "With Microsoft bringing ever-cheaper Lumia into play and Tizen finally getting launched to India early this year, there is still a hunger to chip away at Android's dominance."