Over the last month, we’ve reported on figures from research firms like IDC and Canalys about how many smartphones were shipped in the third quarter of this year, and how they broke down between iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and so on.

But “shipped” means “shipped to retailers and operators” rather than sold to people. Now Gartner has published its estimates for actual “sales to end users”, which offers a more accurate picture of the smartphones getting into people’s hands, rather than gathering dust on shelves.

The difference isn’t huge, in truth: Gartner claims that 250.2m smartphones were sold in Q3, compared to IDC’s estimate that 261.1m were shipped during the quarter.

By Gartner’s reckoning, that’s a 45.8% year-on-year rise, with smartphones accounting for 55% of all mobile phone sales in Q3 this year. While that’s been excitedly hailed as a tipping point by the mobile industry, it’s worth remembering that this means 45% of all phones sold were still NOT smartphones.

Gartner also breaks down the platforms, showing a now-familiar story of dominance for Google’s Android. It took an 81.9% share in Q3, meaning 205m Android smartphones sold to end users.

Apple’s 30.3m iPhone sales gave it a 12.1% share, with Windows Phone up to 8.9m / 3.6%, and BlackBerry sinking to 4.4m / 1.8%. Gartner also reckons that Samsung sold 80.4m smartphones during the quarter, which makes us wonder just how well its Samsung Music Hub service is doing now, given its presence on 32.1% of global smartphones sold in Q3.

Some extra reading to make sense of all this comes from a Guardian piece last week, titled “Why an 80% market share might only represent half of smartphone users”. It outlines the difference between market share and installed base, and notes the importance of understanding how different markets are expanding, as well as how smartphones are being replaced and/or passed on as secondhand devices.

“Only about 51% of the smartphones in peoples’ hands in the US are Android phones. The ratios are more in Android’s favour elsewhere, but nowhere outside of China (and perhaps India) would you find four in five smartphone owners using an Android phone.”

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