HELSINKI (Reuters) - Google's Android platform rose to a dominant position in the smartphone market in the first quarter, research firm Canalys said on Wednesday, increasing its lead over struggling Nokia.
The news underscores how quickly Google, which offers its software to phone makers for free, has raced to the top of the smartphone market -- also surpassing Apple Inc.
Google and Apple have revolutionized the smartphone market in just a few years, leaving former market leader Nokia in trouble.
HTC, Samsung Electronics, Sony Ericsson, Motorola Mobility and LG Electronics have all bet on Google's Android to build a strong position in the fast-growing smartphone market.
Canalys said the market for more advanced cellphones grew 83 percent from a year ago in the January-to-March quarter to 101 million phones.
While Google's software platform increased its market share to 35 percent from less than 10 percent just a year earlier, Nokia's Symbian saw its market share dropping to 26 percent from 45 percent.
Canalys research put Android at the top of the market in the fourth quarter as well, but gap was small and other analysts saw Symbian still holding on to the top spot.
To help its weakening smartphone position, Nokia unveiled in February a deal to start to use Microsoft's Windows Phone software in its phones instead of Symbian.
Canalys said the statement weakened Nokia's position further in markets where operators distribute phones to their clients -- Nokia's first quarter smartphone sales in its home market in Western Europe shrank 20 percent from a year ago.
Nokia's first Windows Phone model is expected to reach consumers, at the earliest, by end-2011. Without Nokia, Windows Phone continued to struggle in the quarter.
Canalys said Samsung shipped some 3.5 million smartphone using its own bada operating system, outperforming total Windows Phone devices sales by more than a million units.
"Samsung's own operating system development, combined with the branding and investment in its Wave smartphones at mid-tier prices, has led to good uptake in developed markets, such as France, Britain and Germany," Cunningham said.
Reporting by Tarmo Virki