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Much is made these days about the smartphone operating system wars, as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android fight for position against the likes of Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS and face a potential long-term challenge from Microsoft’s upstart Windows Phone 7. But the trends in smartphone hardware are just as interesting, if not more so, based on the latest market research.

The big story here is Apple vs. Nokia, as demonstrated by the chart above — which GeekWire compiled by comparing IDC’s latest market research, released this week, vs. historical data from the firm. The iPhone maker (represented by the orange bar), surpassed RIM (yellow) a year ago and now appears to be on its way to seriously rivaling Nokia (blue), if current trends continue.

But the big wild card is Microsoft’s Nokia partnership. If the companies can make Windows Phone 7 a success on Nokia devices, IDC predicted earlier this year that Windows Phone 7 would surpass Apple’ iOS in smartphone OS market share by 2015, based on that Nokia partnership.

In the meantime, in the hardware horse race, Apple is making a big move down the back stretch.

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