Has Android Peaked?

Having hit 84% of the smartphone market in Q3, Android likely has nowhere to go but down.

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Android 5.0 Lollipop is here, and though it will drive adoption of Google's mobile platform, it won't help increase Google's share of the smartphone market. Some suggest Android has reached its peak and simply can't grow anymore. For Google, the top is not a bad place to be.

Of the approximate 270 million smartphones that shipped during the third quarter, 84% -- or 229 million -- ran Android. That number actually decreased one percentage point from the second quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. Apple's iOS platform accounted for 12% of smartphone shipments; that figure was also down about one percentage point. Microsoft's Windows Phone platform followed, with 3% (also down a bit), and BlackBerry trailed at 1%.

Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston doesn't believe Android can go any higher than it already has. "Android's global smartphone market share is peaking," he told The Wall Street Journal. "Unless there is an unlikely collapse in rival Apple iPhone volumes in the future, Android is probably never going to go much above the 85% global market share ceiling."

[Motorola's latest device boasts a powerhouse battery and high-end specs. Read Motorola Droid Turbo Challenges Apple, Samsung, LG.]

Though he called Android's position in the market "unbeatable," Mawston said new challenges are beginning to emerge. For example, Android is dominated by hundreds of hardware makers. These device manufacturers have flooded the market with devices -- and few of them are making any money. Android still has plenty of room to grow in terms of volume, however, as more emerging markets are adopting Android than any other platform. This is possible thanks to the surge in low-cost smartphones available in India, China, and the markets in between.

Microsoft is making a play for those same markets with low-cost Windows Phones. Microsoft gives Windows Phone away to phone makers for free, so it is now better able to compete in the low-cost space. But Microsoft's presence in the market has weakened over the past several months, and the company's new vision for its hardware business has yet to really emerge.

Apple's share of the market has more or less stabilized for the time being. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus helped boost the platform's volume a bit at the end of the third quarter, and Apple will likely see strong shipments through the fourth, as well. Even so, Apple and its iOS platform won't be able to put much of a dent in Android's position. Mawston attributes this to Apple's absence from the low end of the market. iPhones cost a pretty penny and don't sell much in emerging markets, where pricing is critical.

At the moment, Android appears to have reached its peak. With 84% of the market, there's little room for it to go up -- and plenty for it to go down.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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