Symbian is alive and kicking, for now

While Symbian seems to be Nokia’s (s nok) unloved child and is fading in terms of worldwide shipments, it isn’t ready to be completely written off yet. The platform is still the leader in mobile web browsing according to StatCounter, which tracks web usage.
StatCounter’s figures, which Royal Pingdom examined, show that Symbian took a 33.55 percent share in smartphone web browsing up from 30.25 percent at the start of the year, keeping it ahead of iOS (s aapl), which saw its slice decrease from 25.02 at the beginning of the year to 22.61 percent in December. Android (s goog) followed with 21.76 percent, up from 14.61 percent at the start of the year. Meanwhile, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS (s rimm) fell from 15.03 percent in January to 7.82 percent.
The figures don’t track with recent device sales marketshare. Gartner last month said that Android led all third-quarter shipments with 52.5 percent ahead of Symbian (16.9 percent), iOS (15 percent) and BlackBerry (11 percent). But it reflects the fact that Symbian has been a market leader until very recently and still has a big installed base. Even with declining sales this year, it’s still got a lot of people using its devices, especially in emerging markets, where Nokia is selling a lot of cheap devices. Symbian’s strong showing might also be due to the fact that it has a lesser selection of apps, so users are more apt to go online compared to iOS or Android users. As I recently reported, app usage is on the rise and eclipsing mobile browser use in the U.S.
People shouldn’t assume that Symbian is still a top contender considering where recent sales have been going. But the StatCounter data also shows there’s an opportunity in emerging markets that will be up for grabs as Symbian sales decline. If Nokia can hold on to that market with Symbian phones or get those existing customers to switch to Windows Phone 7 (s msft) based devices, it has a shot at staying very much in the game. Microsoft-based phones, however, didn’t even show up on StatCounter’s figures.
Staying competitive in developing markets is going to be tough as cheaper and cheaper Android devices flood the market. RIM has also been doing more and more business overseas in emerging markets but it will face a challenge as it moves to QNX-based phones late next year that will make it harder to hit some of the lower price points it’s reaching with current phones. Apple could take a share with cheaper or smaller iPhones while Samsung is also poised to compete with its Bada OS.
Symbian’s ability to stick around is a nice bragging point for Nokia, which can use some good news right about now. But it may just be a reminder of its former glory. The bigger question is who jumps into the markets where Symbian is still popular? That will be an interesting battle in 2012.