The surging popularity of smartphones will fuel a 7.3 percent gain in mobile-phone shipments this year, rebounding from 1.2 percent growth in 2012, according to research firm IDC.

Smartphone shipments will top 1 billion units this year for the first time, helping the broader industry grow more quickly than expected, IDC said today in a report. The firm had previously projected a 5.8 percent expansion in 2013.

While the smartphone business remains a two-horse race between Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS, the Windows Phone platform will make inroads over the next four years, IDC predicted. The Microsoft Corp. operating system will account for more than 10 percent of shipments in 2017, up from less than 4 percent this year, the research firm said. BlackBerry, meanwhile, is projected to slip to 1.7 percent in 2017.

BlackBerry maintains a research and development operation in the Triangle. 

“Android and iOS will remain the clear No. 1 and 2 platforms, respectively, throughout our forecast,” Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst, said in the report. “Windows Phone has inched ahead of BlackBerry during the first half of 2013, and we believe that will extend into the future.”

Microsoft agreed this week to acquire Nokia Oyj’s mobile- phone operations for $7.2 billion, giving the Redmond, Washington-based company a manufacturing business to support the Windows Phone software. Nokia was already using the operating system under a 2011 partnership.

“Two years ago, the worldwide smartphone market flirted with shipping half a billion units for the first time – to double that in just two years highlights the ubiquity that smartphones have achieved,” Llamas added. “The smartphone has gone from being a cutting-edge communications tool to becoming an essential component in the everyday lives of billions of consumers.”

The trend isn’t changing, another analyst added.

“Smartphones will represent virtually all of the mobile phone market in many of the world’s most developed economies by the end of 2017,” said Kevin Restivo, Senior Research Analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program. “Aggressive carrier subsidies of handsets, falling prices, higher consumer awareness, and a vast array of devices will mean almost all phones shipped to the developed world will be ‘smart.’ However, smartphone shipment volume will be dominated by emerging markets, such as China, even though the percentage of smartphones to feature phones won’t be as high.”

IDC Analysis by Operating System:

  • Android remains the dominant smartphone operating system, a status that won’t change even though its share will decline somewhat as the market matures and competition solidifies. The sheer volume of devices at a wide range of price points combined with Google’s backing and a growing application library will keep Android atop the smartphone O.S. heap. Samsung remains the world’s top seller of Android-based smartphones, while the resurgence of LG and Sony have also contributed to its success in recent quarters.
  • iOS will remain the clear number two operating system as the expected launch of a lower-cost iPhone will open up a wider addressable market. Apple will also grow faster in subsequent forecast years due to enterprise and emerging market share gains that will be driven in part by a likely deal with China Mobile, which will give it greater reach into one of the world’s fastest-growing smartphone markets. iOS share gains will be tempered by the relatively high price points of the iPhone, which makes for a lower share ceiling.
  • Windows Phone will solidify its position as the number three O.S. with incremental share gains over the course of the forecast. With the acquisition of Nokia’s device and services unit, Microsoft will increasingly need to drive share gains by itself as OEM support for Windows Phone is expected to wane now that the company is set to become a full-fledged hardware maker. Microsoft will also need to ship more low-cost smartphones to high-growth emerging markets if it is to continue building on its recent nominal share increases.
  • BlackBerry OS share will decline markedly over the forecast due to tepid BlackBerry 10 reception and emboldened competition that are expected to whittle away share in its remaining regional bastions of strength, such as Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. BlackBerry volume will remain flat as the market expands around it thanks to enterprises with security or other specialized needs that continue to purchase devices from the company.