Google Inc.'s Android software will be the fastest growing operating system betwee\en now and 2013, when it will become the second most popular mobile OS, according to IDC.
The IDC projection nearly mirrors recent findings by Gartner Inc., which predicted that the Android OS will hit the second spot behind Nokia's Symbian in 2012.
IDC based its projection on research of market trends along with interviews of vendor executives.
IDC said that Symbian and Android will be the two most popular operating systems on the 391 million smartphones it projects will ship in 2013. Blackberry will be the third most popular mobile OS, followed by Windows Mobile and the iPhone version of Mac OS X, IDC said. Gartner predicted almost the same mix of OSs in 2012 as IDC did for 2013, but put the iPhone Mac OS X in fourth position, ahead of Windows Mobile. While Android will have the fastest growth of any OS through 2013, IDC noted that it will be running on the devices of a variety of manufacturers, which could "generate confusion among end users comparing their experiences with different Android devices."
IDC also noted that to date, independent application developers have struggled with Android, having to install multiple fixes and patches to apps in order to adhere to different specifications for multiple Android handsets. "Device fragmentation will most likely continue to plague [Android] developers. Those with deep pockets will most likely thrive while smaller ones struggle," IDC said in its report.
IDC analyst Will Stofega said in an interview that early last year, industry followers weren't sure what to make of Android. However, most analysts had concluded by the end of the year that "this OS is going to be a big deal."
IDC's projections come despite the addition of proprietary interfaces and other touches by individual manufacturters of Android devices. "We're already seeing splintering of the user interface with Android," Stofega said, noting the MotoBlur service in some Motorola Android handsets.
Some observers have said Google was looking for such diversity in Android devices, citing its role in creating the Open Handset Alliance. "Whether Google intended this diversity depend on how one sees Google's role. Is Google trying to be the overseer of Android? If so, they need to impose an iron fist because every manufacturer seems to do what they want. On the other hand, a lot of manufacturers are interested in Android," Stofega said.
Symbian, from Espoo, Finland-based Nokia, is not as well known in the U.S. as some other mobile operating systems, but to date has shipped on 250 million smartphones worldwide, IDC noted.
Symbian will maintain its top position over the next few years in part because it allows developers to use a wide variety of programming languages, IDC noted. The researcher added that Symbian apps are available in at least nine online application stores, while most applications for OSs are available in only one store.
IDC predicted that WebOS from Palm Inc. will be the sixth most popular mobile OS in 2013, followed by all Linux OS flavors in and Maemo. By contrast, Gartner had Maemo as the sixth most popular in 2012, followed by Linux and WebOS.
In 2009, 6 million Android devices were shipped, far less than most of the other OSs. The numbers improved consistently through 2009, and by year's end nearly a dozen Android-based models had been launched, IDC noted. The researcher projects that 68 million Android-based units will ship in 2013.
IDC said it expects 132 million Symbian devices to ship in 2013, up from 75.8 million in 2009.
IDC found that 18.3 million Windows Mobile-based devices shipped in 2009, about 7% less than in 2008. Nonetheless, IDC expects 51.7 million Windows Mobile systems to ship in 2013.
IDC said the Windows 7 version of Windows Mobile will boost its "consumer appeal" by being easier to use and supporting more multimedia applications and games.
Nearly 25 million iPhone units shipped in 2009, and IDC projects that nearly 49 million units will ship in 2013. While many analysts have called the iPhone today's iconic smartphone, IDC contends that it is "still not well-suited for the enterprise environment, but the company is making steady progress in this segment."
IDC also cited the need to provision the iPhone through iTunes, and the Apple smartphone's inability to support battery replacements and its lack of a physical Qwerty keyboard.
About 34 million BlackBerry OS devices shipped in 2009, a number that IDC says will grow to 66 million in 2013. BlackBerry, an enterprise stalwart, is currently making a strong marketing appeal to consumers via TV advertising,
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed .