Booming Asia drives Google’s Android

Rapid growth in Asia has been behind the latest jump in sales of smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, putting the internet group comfortably ahead of Apple in the race for leadership in mobile computing.

Sales of handsets that run on the Google software have exploded since the summer, based on figures released late last week, and are now running at twice the most recent rate disclosed for Apple’s iPhone.

Andy Rubin, the executive in charge of Google’s mobile software effort, said that international expansion lay behind the latest advance. Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, he also predicted that a boom in sales in India, Brazil, Indonesia and other emerging countries would contribute to the fast growth rate for the foreseeable future.

The cost of handsets is falling fast and many emerging countries are building advanced mobile networks, he said, adding: “It’s set up for a perfect storm.”

Quoting independent research suggesting that Android has also come to account for half of smartphone shipments in China, Mr Rubin said that the open-source nature of the software had made it popular there. However, in the wake of Google’s dispute over censorship with the Chinese government, Android handsets shipped by China Mobile, the dominant supplier, do not carry the company’s search or e-mail services.

Google’s mobile software push is meant to guarantee it can continue to reach users with its search and advertising services, rather than be forced to rely on handsets made by rivals such as Apple. The software has been taken up by many handset makers looking to create alternatives to the iPhone and the BlackBerry.

While cheap, flat-rate data services made the US the world’s first big market for smartphones, recent months have seen other countries catch up fast, Mr Rubin said.

“After the US, we saw Asia go crazy,” he said, with sales in South Korea in particular going “berserk” in the past four months.

More than 300,000 Android handsets are activated each day, according to Google, up from 200,000 in August. By contrast, Apple reported shipments of 14.1m iPhones during its most recent quarter, to September 25, or roughly 150,000 a day.

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