Android was the most popular mobile platform at the end of 2010, according to a press release by Canalys, a technology research and consultancy group.  Smart phone shipments topped 100 million units in the fourth quarter of last year, with Google-OS based phones accounting for 32.9 million—almost a third of all smart phone shipments.

This news is good for all interested in smart phone technology, not just Android devotees.  Indeed, sales of Apple smart phones almost doubled (from 8.7 million to 16.2 million).  The Nokia, RIM (Blackberry), and Microsoft growth lagged behind the overall growth of the market, but still posted respectable sales numbers (Nokia still grew 30% from last year and ranks second in platform sales this year at 31 million).

The story that will continue to be pushed from these data, however, is the explosion of the Android platform compared to its competitors.  While Apple’s market share is stable (16%), Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM market shares all dropped to make room for an Android ascent to the top.

What does this news mean in the medical apps world?

Android users, before declaring a dominant victory, one warning: global smart phone shipments are not equivalent to interest in medical apps.  These are not sales made to medical professionals.  More specifically, these are not sales to medical professionals and students who use their smart phones in the context of learning and/or practicing medicine.  The success of the medical app world relies on this latter, relatively small, difficult-to-characterize group.

The world may be turning to Android, but nobody knows how interest among the high-utilizers of medical smart phone technology is changing.

Adding to the complexity is this month’s release of the Verizon iPhone.  Will there be a flood of medical professionals who switch from RIM or Android to the iPhone?

The US landscape will shift dramatically this coming year, as a result of the Verizon-Apple agreement…

-Canalys Analyst Tim Shepherd

Nonetheless, these numbers are not meaningless, and you can bet that App developers are taking note.  Over the last year, developers have watched the new guy on the block transform into the world leader in smart phone sales.  As these developers consider how to devote their time and resources creating the next generation of high quality medical apps, Android’s increasing (no exploding) popularity must be a factor.

If you have browsed our lists of the top 20 free iPhone medical apps and the top 15 free Android medical apps, you know that the overall quality and quantity of Android apps still lags behind the iPhone.  Android is unlikely to catch up in the immediate future, but we expect its continuing popularity to quicken the process.