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iPhone sales predicted to top 80 million by 2012

New reports forecast that Apple will sell 50 million phones in 2011, and more than 80 million in 2012, as worldwide expansion and popularity of the iPhone continues to grow.

Apple shipped 13.7 million iPhones in the 2008 calendar year, and the number continues to grow. Last quarter alone, the Cupertino, Calif., company sold 5.2 million iPhones riding the successful launch of the iPhone 3GS. But two new predictions call for the mobile platform to reach astounding new heights worldwide in the next few years.

Bernstein Research

In a note from Bernstein Research this week, hardware analyst Tony Sacconaghi said that Apple will sell more than 50 million iPhones per year by the September 2011 fiscal year. The report, as relayed by Barron's, predicts the entire market for smartphones will grow 27 percent per year in both 2010 and 2011.

A major factor in the iPhone's predicted growth, as seen by Sacconaghi, is the platform's expansion to other carriers. In particular, the analyst expects Apple will sell 11 million phones alone in 2011 by offering the phone on Verizon Wireless in the U.S. With growth in Europe and expansion into China on the company's agenda, Bernstein Research believes Apple could easily achieve the 50 million goal. The firm has a $185 price target for AAPL stock and maintains its "Overweight" rating.

RBC Capital Markets

Similarly, Mike Abramsky, analyst with RBC Capital Markets, predicts that the iPhone will have 5.7 percent total addressable market share by 2012, well up from the 1.1 percent overall share held today. In the company's latest report, RBC has raised its price target for AAPL to $250, maintaining an "Outperform" rating.

Abramsky believes that total iPhone shipments will hit 82.1 million in 2012, good for a 16.3 percent share of the smartphone-specific market.

"Despite the iPhone’s introduction more than two years ago, competitors continue to lag iPhone’s sleek touchscreen experience, robust third-party applications platform, and tight multimedia integration," Abramsky said. "Off the strength of its brand, innovation, and customer loyalty, Apple is expected to retain its premium carrier subsidy versus competitors, sustaining above-peer margins for its smartphones. We believe Apple will sustain its lead in content, games, and apps, which we expect to expand to include mobile commerce, user-generated content, advanced gaming, etc."

The 92-page report predicts smartphones will see explosive growth in the next few years, calling them "the next wave of computing" and predicting shipments will exceed that of PCs in 2011. Abramsky believes that the devices could become the principal way in which people browse the Web, send e-mails, listen to music, watch TV, play games and more. The report increases the firm's prediction for smartphone penetration, calling for a 35.1 percent share of global handsets, totaling 504 million, in 2012.