NEW YORK: Sales of smartphones powered by Google's Android could overtake Apple's equivalent products within two years, eMarketer has claimed.

In a new report, the research firm hailed the open-source nature of the Android operating system as a key factor in driving the system's popularity.

New eMarketer forecasts contained in the report suggest Android's US market share will hit 31% in 2012, ahead of Apple on 30% and RIM on 23%.

eMarketer also gathered sales estimates from its own research, as well as that of firms including Nielsen and comScore, showing that Android's US market share grew from 6% in 2009 to roughly 24% in 2010.

Noah Elkin, an eMarketer principal analyst, said: "The open-source Android OS requires no licensing fee and allows handset manufacturers and wireless carriers considerable latitude to customise the user interface according to their desired specifications."

"With a growing roster of manufacturer and carrier partners in every major market and market segment, scale for Android is coming quickly in terms of device, market share, apps and ad revenues."

Marketing will also be crucial to the health of the mobile market as a whole, the report added.

Elkin continued: "Ultimately, the winner, if there is one, matters less than marketers' ability to make the most of the growing number of smart devices to deliver rich, engaging experiences for consumers."

The report comes as Sony announced plans to offer some of its video games as downloadable apps for Android-powered phones, as it attempts to diversify its gaming division away from its PlayStation and PSP consoles.

Nikkei reports that the service could launch by the end of the year.

Data sourced from eMarketer/Nikkei; additional content by Warc staff