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Open Source To Fuel Smartphone Growth Through 2013

Although Symbian's open source platform for smartphones has been a major sales driver, the growing momentum of Google's Android is expected to spur continued growth.

The rapid rise of smartphones will continue unabated over the next several years, with the penetration of the devices tripling to 38% by 2013, according to a new forecast from market researcher, Informa Telecoms & Media.

One of the important drivers fueling this growth is the Symbian Foundation's support of an open source platform, according to the report. That decision also figures to keep the foundation a step ahead of rivals that include Google's Android, Microsoft's Mobile version of Windows, and Apple's iPhone.

However, the report notes that while 49% of the 162 million smartphones sold in 2008 were bundled with the Symbian OS, that's down from the 65% share the operating system had in 2007. The drop is attributed to Nokia's subpar performance, coupled with the growth of the BlackBerry OS and the Android operating system.

Still, open source strategies such as Symbian's remain "crucial" as the value of smartphones move from device hardware to both software and content. The report cautions that smartphone vendors must continue to create strategies that maximize new revenue streams while at the same time reducing costs.

"The smartphone segment is no longer as simple as it was a few years ago," wrote Gavin Byrne, research analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, in the report. "Since early 2007 Symbian, Microsoft, Linux, and BlackBerry OS have been joined by Apple's OS X iPhone, Android, and recently Palm's Web OS."

In the report, Byrne also noted that the sale of 162 million units in 2008 represent an important milestone: It marks the first time smartphone sales surpassed those of notebook computers.

But not all the news was rosy. While sales of smartphones should largely remain robust over the next few years, the current recession will force a drop in sales in 2009 of about 10% year over year.

The effects of the recession will not be felt equally across all segments of the smartphone market, according to the report. Byrne wrote that while demand among midtier products will decline, sales of higher-end more innovative devices will grow more than 30% to some 211 million units. By 2013, almost four out of every 10 handsets sold worldwide will be smartphones, the report predicted.

Continued commitment among developers to deliver innovative open source applications and components will be essential for smartphone growth, according to the report.

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