Symbian, Android to lead smart phone OS race in ’12

In an updated forecast on how smartphone operating systems will fare in 2012, Gartner Inc. has moved the Apple Inc. iPhone OS to fourth place, slightly behind the Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry OS.

The official forecast updates a set of preliminary numbers released recently, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said today. Both versions of the forecast keep Symbian, the OS behind Nokia phones, in the top spot in 2012, with the Android OS in second position. The latest numbers also split out the Maemo OS from a group of Linux-based OS’s.

Both the preliminary and official forecasts are noteworthy for what they say about Android, which will be at 18 per cent of all smartphones sold globally in 2012, representing about 94 million users out of 525 million. That’s up from a share of less than 2 per cent of all smartphones sold in 2009. (The preliminary forecast had Android garnering a 14 per cent share in 2012.)

The difference in the market share held by BlackBerry and the iPhone OS in the official version is small. Gartner expects the Blackberry will be used by 13.9 per cent of smartphones, or about 73 million units sold. The iPhone OS will be on 13.6 per cent of smartphones, with 71.5 million units sold.

In its preliminary forecast, Gartner had BlackBerry in fifth place, with the iPhone OS in third and Windows Mobile in fourth.

Dropping Windows Mobile’s share in the official forecast follows a spate of recent concerns about that OS, including denunciations of it by Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer.

In fact, Gartner’s official version has Windows Mobile on 47.7 million phones in 2012 — 17 million fewer phones than the preliminary forecast. The early numbers were apparently developed before Ballmer made his remarks.

Here is the full official 2012 forecast from Gartner, based on sales of 525 million smartphones: Symbian, 196.5 million sold, 37.4 per cent share; Android, 94.5 million sold, 18 per cent share; BlackBerry, 73 million sold, 13.9 per cent; iPhone, 71.5 million sold; 13.6 per cent share; Windows Mobile, 47.7 million sold, 9 per cent share; Maemo, 23.5 million sold, 4.5 per cent share; Linux (generally), 11 million, 2.1 per cent share; WebOS (from Palm Inc.) 7.6 million sold, 1.4 per cent share.

According to Dulaney, the official numbers were not available when he first discussed them with Computerworld .

While some industry analysts may quibble over the final forecasts, there is wide agreement that the battle for smartphone supremacy has been joined. Last week’s announcement by Verizon Wireless that it is adopting Android phones — and allowing the Google Voice application on its phones — will further Android’s cause, said In-Stat analyst Allen Nogee.

“The [smartphone OS] fight will not be pretty,” he said.