Sales of Android-based devices are on track to eclipse Windows-based gadgets by 2016, according to new data from IDC.
A separate report from Nielsen, meanwhile, finds that just about half of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, and the majority of those who purchased a mobile device in the last three months opted for a smartphone over a feature phone.
IDC examined global shipments of smart connected devices, which include tablets, PCs, and smartphones. The firm estimated a "relatively dramatic shift" in the next four years as Windows-based devices lose their lead to Google's Android platform.
"The once-dominant Windows on x86 platform, consisting of PCs running the Windows operating system on any x86-compatible CPU, [will slip] from a leading 35.9 percent share in 2011 down to 25.1 percent in 2016," IDC said. "The number of Android-based devices running on ARM CPUs, on the other hand, will grow modestly from 29.4 percent share in 2011 to a market-leading 31.1 percent share in 2016. Meanwhile, iOS-based devices will grow from 14.6 percent share in 2011 to 17.3 percent in 2016."
The growth of Android, IDC said, can be tied to lower prices. But that will make it difficult for hardware vendors to sustain profitability. Developers will likely focus more on iOS "despite the platform's smaller overall market share, because iOS end users have proven more willing to pay for high-quality apps," said Tom Mainelli, research director for IDC Mobile Connected Devices.
Those apps will be accessed on a variety of devices. "We are in a multi-device age," said Bob O'Donnell, vice president of Clients and Displays at IDC, "and we believe the number of people who use multiple devices will only continue to increase."
The challenge will be linking these devices via the cloud, O'Donnell said, something Apple is already exploring with iCloud.
IDC sees smartphone growth being driven by Asia/Pacific countries, especially China, since carriers are subsidizing 3G devices. "In many if not all instances, the smartphone will be the primary connection to the Internet," said Will Stofega, program director of Mobile Phone Technologies and Trends at IDC.
In the U.S., smartphones show no signs of slowing down, Nielsen found. Android is the top choice, with 48 percent of smartphones running the Google mobile OS. About 32 percent of U.S. smartphone users have iPhones. Of those who recently bought a smartphone, 48 percent opted for Android and 43 percent bought an iPhone.
Overall smartphone penetration is up from 36 percent in February 2011 to 49.7 percent last month, Nielsen said.