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The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Apple, BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion and HTC were the only major phone makers to gain ground in the phone market over the course of the past year ending in the third quarter, according to a report by Gartner.

Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson — all manufacturers of voice-centric feature phones as well as smartphones — all saw significant drops in total market share. That’s likely a testament to the increasing popularity of smartphones — whose sales nearly doubled in the third quarter this year when compared to the same quarter last year. Android continues to grow and now runs on a quarter of all smartphones — creeping ever closer to Symbian. Gartner predicted that Android would blitz past Symbian and other operating systems as the most popular smartphone OS by 2014.

Symbian, the operating system of Nokia, continues its terminal velocity free-fall into phone limbo as its market share fell from 36.7 percent in the third quarter last year to 28.2 percent of all phone users in the same quarter this year. Nokia publicly acknowledged Symbian’s messy status when it stepped in and took complete control of the operating system’s development from the non-profit Symbian Foundation. Its baffling attempt at a smartphone chained to the Symbian platform — the Nokia N8 — also ended up falling short, according to VentureBeat’s mobile writer Devindra Hardawar.

Apple picked up about an extra 1 percent of the total number of phone users in the third quarter this year compared to the same quarter a year earlier. Research in Motion picked up about an extra tenth of a percent. HTC, which manufactures a number of phones running on Google’s Android operating system, nearly doubled its market share — growing from 0.9 percent to 1.6 percent of total smartphone users.

Despite a strong showing from Apple in the third quarter, when it sold 14.1 million iPhones, the total number of smartphone carriers using its iPhone operating system fell slightly in the third quarter this year when compared to the same quarter in 2009. That will probably change when the mythical Verizon Wireless iPhone arrives sometime early next year. Until then, around 75 percent of smartphones sold by Verizon have run on Android.

All these metrics may also become completely disrupted as tablet computers begin to dominate the mobile market next year, Gartner said. The technology research firm is predicting that the internet-connected tablet market will reach 54.8 million devices in 2011 — so that might also have an impact on Apple’s market share of smartphone operating systems, according to Gartner.

[Photo: Ed Yourdon]

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