The number of smartphones in use globally is expected to hit 1.7 billion by 2014, driven by an explosion in purchases in emerging markets.
Analysys Mason has forecast that use of the devices, including the iPhone, Blackberry and Google's Nexus One, will grow at an annual rate of 32 per cent between 2010 and 2014 and will account for 26 per cent of all handsets in four years' time.
A report by the telecoms consultancy said that more than 50 per cent of this growth in handsets will come from the developing markets of Asia-Pacific, notably China and India, and Central and Latin American states such as Brazil.
The report is likely to intensify the battle raging between some of the biggest beasts in the technology jungle, such as Microsoft, Symbian and Google, to ensure that their own operating systems are used on as many devices as possible. Jim Morrish, the principal analyst at Analysys Mason, said: "Smartphone markets in the developed world will continue to be fiercely competitive, but key handset manufacturers such as Nokia and Samsung are lining up to tap a new opportunity in emerging markets." He said that handset manufacturers should contribute to lower-cost handsets in emerging markets, such as by reducing manufacturing costs and increasing device standardisation. Mr Morrish added that market participants who can extend the "smartphone experience" to less expensive handsets would be at an advantage.
He said: "The ingredients of a successful mobile data proposition in emerging markets will be different to those in developed markets, and I don't think that an iPhone will be one of them. In the medium term, [Google's] Android, [Samsung's] Bada and the Symbian operating system-based devices will dominate these new markets."
The report said growth in the smart phone market over the next four years would be driven by demand for consumer rather than business devices. Mr Morrish said: "Ultimately, business handsets currently represent a little under 10 per cent of all handsets in the market, so although we expect that in excess of 40 per cent of business handsets will be smartphones by 2014, the sheer number of residential subscriptions dictate that residential users will drive smartphone market growth."