Support from the Linux Mobile Foundation, Google's Android initiative, and Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech are seen as fueling the prediction from analyst firm ABI.
It's not a forecast that will leave Symbian and Windows Mobile supporters quaking in their boots, but ABI Research is predicting that about 20% of middle and high-end mobile handsets will be running some form of the Linux operating system by 2013.
The consultancy pointed to a series of market dynamics that led it to this conclusion: growing momentum behind the Linux Mobile (LiMo) Foundation, founded by Motorola, Samsung, and Vodafone and others more than a year ago; Google's emerging Android initiative; and Nokia's support for its tablet-based Maemo OS and its acquisition of Linux app Trolltech.
"Linux OS solutions will be far more cost-effective than incumbent solutions, even when silicon requirements are taken into account, given that a fuller application layer will be included in the standard package and that the burden of customization falls mostly on the independent software vendor," said Stuart Carlaw, a vice president with ABI, in a statement Monday.
Mobile Linux solutions will be a cornerstone of enabling domains that embrace both Web-based applications and blended Web/native applications, the consultancy also predicted. Furthermore, Linux will be central to bringing more content-rich environments to users with mid-range mobile devices. The consultancy also foresees that the framework fragmentation and silicon issues that have constrained Linux's use in mobile applications are moving toward resolution.
A mobile flavor of Linux has its work cut out, given the fragmentation and relative disarray of the mobile OS market. While Symbian thrives in Europe, it's carved out a relatively anemic market share in the U.S., In addition to Windows Mobile and Android, the Apple iPhone remains the biggest wild card in the mix; a new beta of the iPhone software development kit was released late last month, when Apple also said it's planning a firmware upgrade for its popular devices in June.