Android handsets made up nearly half of all smartphones sold in the U.S. in the first quarter, according to research firm Canalys, cementing Google’s foundation for a push to mobile search and advertising.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s Android software ran on 49 percent of new U.S. smartphones, for a global share of 35 percent, up from 10 percent a year earlier.
The surge in numbers means that Google is well on its way to solidifying a beachhead for a larger battle over location-based services. With PC shipments stagnating — smartphones outsold computers again last quarter — Google and other mobile companies see mobile as the next frontier.
“This is the place that we are essentially betting its future on,” said Karim Temsamani, Google’s head of mobile advertising, last month.
According to Google, mobile searches are growing at the same rate today as desktop-based search did in its early days. By controlling Android, Google ensures that its mobile search stays the default option on its phones, and search is the gateway to the advertising revenues that sustain the company. Owning the platform also gives the company greater insight into users’ behavior, including, controversially, their movements.
But long-time rival Microsoft aims to challenge Google’s mobile search dominance with its own Bing engine. Windows Phone handsets use Bing, of course, and there aren’t many in the market yet, but that could change when Nokia’s first Windows-powered phones arrives, probably early next year. In fact, the Finnish phone maker is expected to surge ahead of Apple by 2015, according to research firm Gartner.
In the meantime, Microsoft has announced a deal with Research in Motion to make Bing the default on its BlackBerry handsets.
The smartphone market itself grew a whopping 83 percent over a year ago, so even Nokia’s massive decline, down to 24 percent of new shipments, from 39 percent a year ago, translates into growth in absolute terms.
In January, Google said it plans to hire over 6,000 engineers in 2011, beefing up its efforts to the coming battles.