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IDC says Android had a 75 percent market share in the third quarter

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November 3, 2012

Just when you'd least expect it, Google’s Android operating system appears to be winning the smartphone battle.

Market research firm IDC says that the Android operating system had a 75 percent market share in the third quarter, versus just 15 percent for Apple's iOS and 10 percent for all others.

And Windows Phone 8 had just a meagre 2 percent of the market share.

Google has popularized Android by working with a wide range of device makers including Samsung, LG, HTC and ZTE. Now the company is committing a major marketing budget to its own brand, Nexus.

However, the Android smartphones and tablets are still made by Google’s partners. Google has indicated numerous times that it isn't interested in going into the manufacturing business.

The new Nexus 4 smartphone is made by LG and the Nexus 10 tablet is made by Samsung. Google has brought manufacturing expertise in-house with its purchase of Motorola Mobility, but the company is expected to continue partnering with a wide range of device makers.

On any given day, Google makes its money by selling ads on its search engine, not by selling devices, and the widespread adoption of the Android operating system is an important way for Google to drive page views and increase its ad revenue.

IDC also adds that total shipments of Android phones were up almost 92 percent in the third quarter alone, while the overall smartphone market grew almost 47 percent year-over-year.

IDC says that a total of 181 million smartphones were shipped during the quarter. However, Android’s market dominance could face some challenges during the fourth quarter, this time from Apple’s iPhone 5 and, to a lesser extent, from Microsoft’s Windows 8 devices.

Google hopes that its unlocked Nexus 4 devices will be a serious contender, particularly for price sensitive smartphone buyers who prefer a prepaid phone.

It will be interesting to see in the next two quarters what the final sales numbers will be on Android versus the others. One thing is for sure: expect the iPhone's popularity to have a significant impact on those numbers.

In other mobile news

More than three days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, there are still many people in some of America's most densely populated cities that still remain without wireless service and without power, highlighting new risks as more and more people cancel their landline phones in preference to cell service.

U.S. phone companies are still wondering how best to ensure the resiliency of wireless networks. The industry has largely won, for example, fighting back regulations that would have required backup power at cell towers. But now that Sandy has passed, killing almost one-hundred people in its path, and created over $30 billion in property damage, some regulators are saying the will try to make new rules again when it comes to emergency power for wireless service.

Widespread cellphone service outages across the region hit by Hurricane Sandy, with some wireless carriers performing better than others depending on the location, are giving those debates new urgency.

In Greenwich Village and in the neighborhoods of Manhattan, where power has been out since Monday night, signals on the AT&T network were hard to find during walk-throughs conducted by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday and Thursday.

Verizon Wireless' network performed a bit better, with calls going through in much of the area. In interviews, several residents corroborated those same findings, saying that Sprint and T-Mobile USA signals were elusive as well and that they used their neighbors' Verizon phones when they had to make important calls.

Yang Yeng, a shop keeper selling batteries, candles, and flashlights on the street in front of his still darkened shop in the East Village, said his T-Mobile phone was useless in the area. The situation, he said, reminded him of the occasional cellphone-service outages where he used to live, on the outskirts of a small city in southern China.

John Donovan, AT&T's technology chief, said in an interview that all carriers' networks had been hit hard in Manhattan because the landline infrastructure that connects cellphone transmitters to the wired telecom network had been damaged in the storm.

He said AT&T conducted extensive drive testing in Manhattan this week and found negligible difference in the performance of the wireless networks.

Wireless carriers have released little data this week to allow broader conclusions to be drawn on how the networks are holding up in various locations.

While electric utilities publish regular updates on the number and location of customers without power, wireless carriers have made only vague statements about the state of their networks.

Overall, the Federal Communications Commission said that by Thursday morning, 19 percent of the cell phone sites in areas affected by the storm still faced service outages, down from one in four sites earlier in the week.

Cable service outages are down to about 14 percent from initial estimates of 25 percent. "Restoration efforts in the hardest-hit areas, including New York and New Jersey, continues to be more difficult," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Replenishing fuel supplies for backup generators "is a particularly critical challenge," he said. Wireless carriers say they've worked in recent years to make their networks more reliable, installing more secure infrastructure and redundant communications paths.

But in Washington, they have fought efforts to make them more accountable in disasters. After widespread cellphone outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the FCC tried to require wireless carriers to install backup batteries at all of their sites.

Mobile service carriers sued to block the rule, and the government eventually dropped its attempt to implement it, but that was a big mistake, and superstorm Sandy has proven it.

Carriers say they have backup batteries at many facilities already, and more widespread use of them may not have made a big difference in the aftermath of the storm simply because the battery charge typically only lasts around eight hours.

In mid-2011, the FCC proposed that the wireless industry explore networks that can be operated from blimps and unmanned aircraft in a disaster. The wireless industry pushed back, arguing such systems would cause interference and would be too costly.

Wireless carriers argue they don't need additional rules and new regulations to ensure the reliability of their networks because it's in their best interest to do so. But there are many that diagree.

They chalked up their issues in the New York area to devastating flooding that, in addition to knocking out power, disabled backup generators and disrupted the underground cables that carry calls, texts and Web searches from cell towers back to the main networks.

Additionally, the city's large density poses extraordinary challenges for readying cell sites with backup power and then getting them back online when outages do happen.

Still, the widespread cellphone service outages in Manhattan showed that America's wireless networks still remain very vulnerable in emergencies despite a half decade of efforts to shore them up. And it also seems that the industry didn't learned anything from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 either.

Jamie Barnett, who retired as chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau earlier this year, questioned whether market forces are sufficient to push wireless carriers to make their networks more reliable, given that ensuring better service in emergencies could end up costing consumers more money.

"There may be a price we do need to pay, in essence on our monthly phone bills, to make sure that we can communicate in the worst of times," Mr. Barnett said.

In a sign of the pressure wireless carriers are under to get their networks back up and running, former merger partners AT&T and T-Mobile USA said Wednesday that they would let mobile subscribers in storm-hit areas share their networks and would cooperate on the repairs to the networks.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson visited New York on Thursday to survey repair efforts and speak with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mr. Bloomberg had already expressed his frustration with the state of phone service in the city.

"I have tried a number of times to make a call and gotten through only to find it go to a one-way call very quickly," he said.

On Thursday, the mayor thanked AT&T for its help in the crisis. He said at a news conference Mr. Stephenson promised AT&T would bring in trucks that would offer charging stations and wireless connections in areas without coverage or power.

Sprint network chief Bob Azzi said his crews were working feverishly to improve service in New York despite multiple obstacles, including difficulties getting into Manhattan and trouble accessing rooftop antennas.

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The island's density and zoning restrictions, he said, often prevented the company from placing backup generators at cellphone transmitters.

Another challenge now is the damage to the telecommunications cables that connect cellphone antennas to the landline network. "We will do things to learn from this event, to make more investment, to do what we need to do in order to make this more resilient for the next thing that could happen," Mr. Azzi said.

But he added that given New York's density and the quirks of its telecom infrastructure, "there might be limits to what you can really do, ultimately."

Hurricane Sandy has also shown us a weakness in cable and phone companies' largely-fiber infrastructure over which they deliver "triple plays" of landline phone service along with video and broadband to millions of customers. In the days of copper-wire telephony, customers would be able to pick up the phone and make calls even if their power went out, because the copper would conduct electricity to power analog phones on the receiving end.

But such is not the case with fibre optics, where actual short bursts of light are sent through small pieces of fiber but that fiber cannot carry power, and that's the whole issue here. Sometimes older technology is still the best it would seem, at least in the case of this superstorm anyway.

In other mobile and wireless news

Intel researchers and engineers say they are developing a 48-core processor for smartphones and tablets, something that could potentially enable users with the capabilities of almost a supercomputer in their hands. At least that's what Intel is claiming.

According to a new study from Computerworld, Intel is "working on finding new methods to better use and manage the many cores of a processor in some mobile devices."

Researchers expect that such powerful chips will be available to the public in about 5 to 10 years, according to the report.

Today, smartphone and tablet chips typically top out at four cores. Intel's Atom chip, meanwhile, currently only has a single core.

But adding additional cores, Intel says, would allow a device to distribute tasks among the different parts of the chip, making the processor faster and more power-efficient.

For example, one core could encrypt an email while another could run an app, an Intel researcher told Computerworld. Or some cores could run at higher speeds for better performance while others perform basic tasks at lower clock speeds to preserve battery life.

Distributing tasks among cores is nothing new. Most recently, Nvidia has followed that strategy with its mobile chip, Tegra 3. The processor has four main cores but also includes a fifth, low-power core to run tasks that don't require a lot of computing power. That helps improve energy consumption, the company says.

Still, 48 cores is a big jump from five. It's difficult to imagine right now why a phone would need that kind of processing power, and it could be harder to even write software to address that many cores in a single CPU.

But at the very least, having such a powerful processor could still allow people to truly replace their PCs with mobile devices. The unit could contain all of a user's programs and data, and connect to a larger screen when working.

And computer vision, speech recognition, augmented reality, and other new tasks require a lot of computing power. As those sorts of programs -- and others we haven't even thought of yet -- become more popular, the chips powering mobile devices will have to get stronger.

"I think the desire to move to more natural interfaces to make the interaction much more human-like is really going to drive the computational requirements," said Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner.

"Having large numbers of processor cores to generate very high performance levels is the most energy efficient way to deliver those performance levels," he added.

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Source: IDC Market Research.

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