Android KitKat

Just how big is Android in 2013? Very big. Research firm Strategy Analytics published its latest smartphone market-share stats yesterday, claiming that global shipments grew 45% to 251.4m in the third quarter, and that 204.4m of those were running Android.

That gives Google’s OS a record 81.3% market share, with its growth coming at the expense of Apple and BlackBerry. iPhone’s 33.8m shipments in Q3 saw Apple’s market share fall year-on-year from 15.6% to 13.4%, while BlackBerry’s 2.5m shipments saw its share fall to a new low of just 1%.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Windows Phone is garlanded with the ‘fastest-growing’ tag by Strategy Analytics, thanks to its 4.1% market share and 10.2m smartphone shipments in Q3.

But Android’s dominance was the big story, with Google’s unveiling last night of its new Nexus 5 handset and Android 4.4 ‘KitKat’ update emphasising the point.

The LG-made Nexus 5 is a whizzy high-end Android smartphone that went on sale last night, and quickly sold out. But the bigger story is KitKat, which Google says has been deliberately “slimmed down” in order to run on lower-end Android smartphones, which have traditionally been quickly outdated by their inability to run newer, fatter versions of Android.

“Now Android can run comfortably on the 512MB of RAM devices that are popular in much of the world, bringing the latest goodies in Android 4.4 within reach for the next billion smartphone users,” blogged Google’s Android boss Sundar Pichai.

Why should you care about this? The music angle here is those “next billion smartphone users”, particularly in emerging markets. A shift towards mobile-first thinking has been coming (sometimes slowly) for some time among digital music services and music app developers, but many have remained iOS-first in their mindsets.

Yet when you look outside the big Western territories, it’s increasingly an Android world. While that spells potential for Google’s own music services (whether Google Play or YouTube), it’s also a sign that Android has a crucial role to play for digital music as a whole.

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