Mobile Q4: All Eyes Were on Android, 4G, Tablets

The mobile industry saw several key trends continue during the final three months of the Mobile industry continued the of an eventful 2010: Smartphone sales soared again, use of the high-powered devices predictably fueled increases in mobile data consumption and the epic battle of Apple (s aapl) vs. Google (s goog) escalated, thanks to Android’s remarkable traction and the iPad’s white-hot sales.

The fourth quarter may well be remembered as the period when Android replaced iOS as the most important platform in the minds of mobile developers. Android was the most popular platform among U.S. consumers who purchased a smartphone during the last six months of 2010, according to Nielsen, and is now less than three percentage points behind Apple’s iOS in terms of overall consumer market share. Both operating systems continue to whittle away at Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS (s rimm), leading to a three-way race in which all three are within a few percentage points — but in which RIM is headed in the wrong direction:

The tablet space — which had essentially been the iPad — got more heated in the fourth quarter thanks to the emergence of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. The 7-inch tablet received mixed reviews but has generally been praised as the first truly worthy competitor to the iPad. The Galaxy Tab was among the first of what looks to be dozens of tablets coming to market as we usher in the new year, inviting the question of just how big the tablet market is worldwide. We believe the space will continue to be dominated by the iPad for at least the next few years, but the success of the Galaxy Tab indicates a broad market that could support a variety of devices with different features and sizes running various platforms. That will especially be true in the enterprise, where the success of specific tablet models could hinge on price points and use cases.

Meanwhile, network operators scrambled to outpace each other as the industry moves beyond 3G toward the world of 4G. Verizon Wireless (s vz) and MetroPCS (s pcs) flipped the switch on LTE in their first markets, Sprint continued to build out its WiMAX network with partner Clearwire (s clwr) and AT&T (s t) and T-Mobile USA gambled that HSPA+ could provide a smoother path to 4G. Also, Wi-Fi usage ramped up as carriers looked to ease network congestion, even as they push more data out to smartphone-touting users. But that data usage — specifically, the consumption of smartphone apps that are rapidly gaining popularity — is already causing controversy that will continue to plague the industry.

Of course, those were only a few developments and overarching trends in the mobile space this past quarter. Near field communication (NFC) based mobile payments grew during the last few months, too, and the rise of countless inexpensive apps — and the personal data they share — sparked privacy concerns. You can read more about these issues, as well as fourth-quarter venture capital investments and a near-term outlook for the mobile industry at my latest report on GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

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