Android now world's most popular phone OS

Google's Android leaves Nokia's Symbian in the dust. Apple still has a long way to go if it wants to beat out the Android Army.

Android has conquered the world. Among the devices powered by the Android operating system is the Samsung Galaxy Tab, pictured here.

Android is now the most popular mobile operating system in the world, surpassing even Nokia's Symbian OS, which had long held the top spot on the smartphone market thanks to a strong presence outside the US. According to the British research firm Canalys, shipments of Android-powered handsets reached 32.9 million in Q4 of 2010, an astonishing achievement for a piece of software released less than three years ago.

By comparison, Canalys says Nokia shipped 31 million Symbian-powered in handsets in the same quarter. Apple's iOS – the operating system that runs on the iPhone – ranked third on the Canalys report, with approximately 16 million units shipped; the RIM BlackBerry operating system placed fourth, with 14.6 million units shipped.

Usual disclaimer: "Shipped" is different from "sold." It's possible that stores are overstocked with unsold Android units. That's unlikely, however. This Android trend has climbed steadily over the years, showing that stores (and therefore shoppers) want more and more of Google's OS.

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Tech industry insiders have repeatedly drawn attention to the growth of Android, as has Google itself. Last summer, for instance Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced that 200,000 new Android devices are sold every day. "People are finally beginning to figure out how successful Android is," Schmidt said, calling Android's growth rate "phenomenal."

Still, the smartphone market is a volatile place, and some analysts have argued that the arrival of the Verizon iPhone could shake things up all over again.

Verizon is going to sell so many iPhones that "it's going to make people's heads spin, but it's not going to kill AT&T," Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, told the site recently. Instead, Greengart predicts that the Verizon iPhone will make things difficult for for Google, the reasoning being that many users will dump their Android-powered Verizon phone for an Apple handset.

ALSO SEE: Verizon iPhone versus AT&T iPhone: The top three differences

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