By the end of this year, Google's Android smartphone operating system will in a single year have leapfrogged competitors like Apple's iPhone, Research in Motion's Blackberry and Microsoft Windows phones in global popularity, and will challenge Nokia to become the world's most popular mobile OS by 2014, research firm Gartner said Friday.
In its annual global smartphone forecast, Gartner said the explosive growth of Google's mobile operating system will give it 17.7 percent of worldwide sales by the end of 2010 -- up from 3.9 percent at the end of 2009. Google says it is currently seeing more than 200,000 Android phones activated every day.
With manufacturers like Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola planning to offer budget Android phones this fall, Android will become a mass market technology that by 2014 will have double the global market share of iOS, Apple's mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and the iPad, Gartner said.
Android's rise to the No. 2 smartphone operating system in terms of global sales by the end 2010 is two years sooner than Gartner predicted a year ago.
"It's a matter of Android really going more into the hands of the mainstream user," Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a telephone interview from London. "The iPhone will remain focused toward the higher end of the market, while through the end of this year and into 2011, all that growth you see in Android will come from the fact that most of the vendors who are backing it will release cheaper smartphones."
By the end of 2014, Gartner says Android and Nokia's Symbian operating system will each account for about 30 percent of global smartphone sales, while Apple's iOS will be third with about 15 percent of the global market, and RIM will be fourth with about 12 percent.
The projections account for Gartner's expectation that Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, will begin to sell the iPhone in coming months, Cozza said.
The research firm IDC is also forecasting strong growth for Android relative to Nokia's Symbian operating system, although not quite as strong as Gartner's prediction, saying that Android smartphones will comprise 24.9 percent of global smartphone in 2014, compared to 32.9 percent for Symbian.
Both Gartner and IDC agree, however, that Android is rapidly eating into the market share of Nokia and RIM.
"That flood of Samsung handsets, HTC handsets, LG handsets, Motorola -- it's just this sort of irresistible wave," said Will Stofega, a mobile analyst for IDC said of the growth of Android smartphones. "It's difficult to say that they are not going to become more and more dominant as time goes on."
Google declined to comment on the reports.
Analysts say there are always a number of issues that could derail Android's growth. Those include Oracle's recent federal copyright lawsuit against Google charging that the Android operating system was built on Oracle's Java software without permission, "fragmentation" concerns about the different versions of Android being sold, and questions about whether Google will be able to maintain amicable relationships with the variety of manufacturers and wireless carriers that support Android phones.
But Stofega said there is little doubt that Android's rapid growth and its popularity with software developers who build smartphone apps contributed to Apple's uncharacteristic decision this week to loosen its grip on control over software development for iPhone and iPad. Google said there are now more than 80,000 apps available to download in the Android Market, still much less than the Apple App Store, but more than double the number available this spring.
"The developers tell us they love Android. It's easier to learn; it takes less time, and one of the complaints we hear quite a bit about is (Apple's) app certification process as a real thing that costs them time and money," Stofega said. Developers figure "why not go to Android and make a bet there? Get on the wave and see what happens."
Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/swiftstories.