When Sony Ericsson CEO Bert Nordberg claims a 17% share of the market for Android smartphones, it's easy to dismiss that claim as crazy or misinformed. After all, the only Android phone available from the Sony (NYSE: SNE) and LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) joint venture is the originally promising but now underwhelming Xperia X10. Even that model sells only through AT&T (NYSE: T) in the U.S., which is loath to promote any smartphone other than its golden goose, the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone. There's just no way this phone outsells nearly every Android phone on the market.

But then, you're forgetting about the world outside U.S. borders. Sony Ericsson isn't huge domestically, but remains a large presence in market geographies like Europe and Asia. Specifically, the company expects China to become its largest market "in the next four to five years."

China Unicom (NYSE: CHU) and China Mobile (NYSE: CHL) get Sony Ericsson models we've never seen here in the States. Most of them would not be compatible with the network technologies used by AT&T, Verizon, and the other majors. This hides their sales from the view of many American investors.

The ongoing move from making untold millions of value-priced, basic cell phones to building higher-ticket Android smartphones is working out rather well for Sony Ericsson. Its average selling prices are on the rise, and Nordberg claims a 4% global share of the total cell phone market by volume, but a 7% share when counted by dollars.

So it all comes down to how you count your numbers -- global or local, dollars or units? I can see how at least one of those calculations shows Sony Ericsson in second place with a 17% market share, when defined just so. Should Apple, whose largest market is in the U.S., be scared of this rising rival? I don't think so.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of China Mobile. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.