Google and Apple: Soon at 100 Million Operating System Copies a Year

Last Updated Jun 23, 2010 5:45 PM EDT

Apple (AAPL) has garnered huge attention for the recent success of both the iPhone 4 and iPad. However, Google (GOOG) reminded everyone that the mobile operating systems race -- no matter what hard core Apple fans would like to think -- is hardly a one-horse parade. Look at the numbers, and you realize that each companies is moving almost 20 million copies of its operating system a quarter, and that 100 million copies annually won't be far off.

Google vice president of engineering Andy Rubin mentioned in a blog post that the company was activating 160,000 Android devices a day. Rubin calculated the number per second -- Did someone say engineering? -- but the interesting number is in the aggregate. With 365 days a year, or 91.25 days a quarter, that is 14.6 million units every three months.

About a month ago I estimated that Google would sell 15 million units next quarter. The current numbers suggest that Google is already at that pace and still growing. The 160,000 units-a-day figure is 60 percent higher than last month. The growth rate is stunning. Even if it slows to 20 percent, we're talking about nearly 200,000 units a day, or over 18 million handsets a quarter.

The iPad moved 3 million units in 80 days. That's 3.42 million a quarter, or 265,116 units a week (figuring roughly 4.3 weeks to the month and three months to the quarter). That's ahead of the 200,000 a week I thought didn't "seem outlandish." The real question is the iPhone. I thought sales could easily hit 11 million units next quarter, but the hot interest in the new model (even if the white version won't be available for a few weeks) suggests that is low. My gut says 13 million next quarter, which would be 16.42 million iPads and iPhones (with some number of iPod touches, which also use Apple's iOS).

That would still leave Google as the dominant handset operating system vendor. Leveraging multiple hardware vendors is the open secret, as Google followed the Microsoft (MSFT) PC model, except that it doesn't charge for the operating system.

Speaking of Microsoft, it has predicted selling 30 million copies of Windows Phone 7 by the end of 2011. Frankly, that doesn't seem so impressive, given that Google and Apple are each on their way to moving 80 to 100 million copies a year. As for RIM (RIMM), I don't think the new version of its operating system or updated hardware will do any good. It will keep selling, but is probably already in third place.

The question then becomes, what will Nokia (NOK) do? It's been far and away the clear volume leader of handsets in the smartphone category, but the company has yet to come up with anything that really competes on a feature basis. I suspect that over the near term, Nokia's high end sales will begin to take an enormous hit. There are too many alternatives that are wildly popular.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.