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Android sales to outstrip iPhone by '12?

Apple's iPhone got a head start but Google's Android devices are set to take off, market researcher Informa says. The real loser, however, apparently will be Symbian.

The iPhone's lead over smartphone upstart Android may be short-lived, according to an industry watcher's predictions.

Android smartphone sales will outstrip iPhone sales by 2012, market researcher Informa Telecoms & Media has predicted in a new report.

Last month, Telefonica Europe said that sales of the iPhone topped 1 million in the U.K. Although T-Mobile UK--the exclusive carrier of the first Android device, the G1--wouldn't say exactly how many of the devices had been sold, it did say the handset now accounts for 20 percent of its contract sales.

Web behemoth Google released the first beta developers kit for its Android open OS platform in August, with the first handset--the G1 smartphone--launching the following month. A second handset, the Magic, is expected to arrive next month.

Apple's iPhone has a slightly longer heritage--with the first device arriving in the U.S. in June 2007. However, the iPhone 3G hit stores last July, giving it only a few months' head start on its Google rival.

Both Android and OS X are eating into the market share of the best-selling smartphone OS maker, Symbian. Last year, just under half of smartphones sold were based on Symbian--a drop of 16 percentage points from the year before when it had 65 percent market share. BlackBerry OS, Linux, and Windows Mobile are also gaining popularity and eating some of Symbian's share, according to Informa.

However, London-based Informa believes Symbian's switch to open source will help the Symbian Foundation maintain its leadership over Android, Linux, and Microsoft over the next few years.

Nearly 162 million smartphones were sold last year, surpassing laptop sales for the first time, according to Informa. The market researcher forecasts that smartphone penetration will reach 13.5 percent of new handsets sold this year and that the figure will reach 38 percent by 2013.

Informa also suggests smartphone sales will be immune to the global economic downturn, maintaining a prediction of "robust growth" of 35.3 percent year over year.

Total handset sales, by contrast, won't be as resilient and are set to fall 10.1 per cent year over year, Informa predicts.

Natasha Lomas of reported from London.