New research from Strategy Analytics says global smartphone shipments rose 30 percent in 2014 to reach 1.3 billion units. Android accounted for 81 percent, which means the operating system shipped in more than one billion smartphones last year.
Android’s enormous presence in the worldwide smartphone market is so big that Apple, its next closest rival, shipped 193 million smartphones in 2014.
Put it another way. Android shipped five times more smartphones than iOS. There are seven times more people on earth than Android smartphones shipped in 2014.
It’s a staggering amount. So why doesn’t it seem more impressive?
Maybe because it was inevitable. Gartner predicted more than a year ago that Android would ship more than a billion devices in 2014. Nobody really begged to differ. No other OS is even close to challenging Android’s lead.
Apple may have the advantage when it comes to smartphone profit share, but Android has a lock on market share and many of the benefits that come with it. Proliferation of its web products, huge install base to attract developers, a measure of control over giant OEMs, and a large, passionate fan base.
It’s also Android that’s dominating the sub-$400 smartphone range, helping to push mobile broadband access across emerging markets.
But with such a wide price range of devices and such a variety of manufacturers slapping Android on phones multiplied by enormous shipment volumes, Android’s fragmentation issues begin to multiply.
Android has 39 percent of users on KitKat, meaning 390 million smartphones are running the latest Android update. But the overall version mixture for the Android platform is like a trip through history. A decent chunk of Android smartphones haven’t even caught a whiff of anything flavored 4.0 or later.
The current distribution model for Android doesn’t necessarily apply to the smartphones shipped in 2014. But for the sake of argument, let’s do the math anyway.
One billion Android smartphones shipped last year, according to the Android platform distribution table as of Jan. 5, 2015, would include 78 million smartphones running Gingerbread 2.3.3-2.3.7 and 4 million smartphones running Froyo 2.2. That’s a lot of phones that can’t even handle Crossy Road.
But the most sobering realization is that Android may have reached its zenith. An impressive peak but an end just the same. Android will likely have to start eating everyone else’s lunches in order to keep up its rapid growth. IDC projects smartphone shipments for 2015 to grow 12.2 percent, much slower than the rate of growth in 2014. And looking ahead to 2018, the compound annual growth rate for smartphones shakes out to 9.8 percent. It’s a plateau effect that will touch everyone, Android included.
By this point someone’s already made up their mind to rip off my head for writing this blog post but I’ll go ahead anyway and reassert that one billion smartphones shipped is a remarkable feat. No other smartphone OS in history has done that before.
But when we knew the number was coming and bringing with it the ability to exacerbate existing issues while raising conversations about how Android gets the next billion, the enthusiasm over the landmark achievement fades quickly.