The number of smartphones shipped with open source operating systems (OS) will increase from 106 million this year to 223 million by 2014.

That’s the prediciton of telecom consultants Juniper Research, who found that operating systems and applications are playing an increasingly important role in the differentiation of new smartphones.

They also found that the OS plays a key factor in the choice of which handset to choose from by users.

Juniper’s research mirrors recent figures from rival market watcher Strategy Analytics, which forecast that Android smartphone shipments will increase 900 per cent during 2009 over last year.

The last three years has seen a revolution in the OS market, with market leader Symbian moving to open source and Apple leading the way in the distribution of apps through their innovative, but now widely copied, AppStore approach.

The move to open-source OS has also encouraged developers to design new and attractive applications.

With over 60 per cent of the OS market now based on open-source, and a sizeable pool of software design talent out there, there is a massive opportunity for innovation.

However, Juniper said the real key is not whether the OS is open-source but whether it’s easy for a developer to design an application and make money from that effort.

The combined changes of Apple’s open route to the market and LiMo, OHA and Symbian’s open-source OS approach have generated a tidal wave-like effect which even the economic downturn has been unable to reverse.

The researchers said there is a clear warning for device manufacturers – the choice of OS is now critical and market share will, to a large extent, follow application development.

They add that the unexpected side effect, however, will be a shift in the balance of power towards application developers and end users.

Handset-makers beware.

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