New research predicts that sales of handsets that use Google's Android could surpass Apple iPhones in three years when it comes to sales figures.

The iPhone's lead over smartphone upstart Android is set to be short-lived, according to a report published by research company Informa Telecoms and Media.

The analyst group said Android’s open source nature will give it a boost over Apple’s iPhone, but Nokia’s Symbian will maintain its lead over Android as well as challengers Linux and Microsoft.

The analyst firm said in a review of the state of the mobile phone operating system market that open source will be crucial to the growth of mobile platforms, in terms of opening up users to new applications and keeping costs down for manufacturers.

The smartphone segment is not as simple as it was a few years ago, said Gavin Byrne, a research analyst.

In 2008 there were almost 162 million smartphones sold, surpassing notebook sales for the first time. The decision to move the Symbian platform to open source is crucial in maintaining its leadership over Android, Linux and Microsoft.

The study showed that smartphone sales will continue to be immune to the global economic downturn, maintaining robust growth of 35.3 per cent, year-on-year.

Overall, Apple's iPhone has a slight lead on smartphone sales as its the first device arriving in the US in June 2007. However the 3G iPhone has only had a few months' headstart on its Google rival, hitting shops in July last year.