The introduction of the iPad reinforces the idea that the mobile space is chaotic and can be disrupted by breakthrough products and dynamic changes in the underlying platforms.
Nobody knows what is going to happen. But that doesn't stop analysts from trying to figure it out. The latest take is from IDC. The company suggests phenomenal growth for smartphones between 2009 and 2013. By the end of the period, the firm says, smartphone shipments worldwide will be more than 390 million units, which makes the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) 20.9 percent.
The firm points out how fractious the operating system sector is becoming. Symbian, IDC says, will retain the top spot due to its strength outside of the United States. Android will explode from 690,000 units in 2008 to 68 million in 2013, a CAGR of 150.4 percent. Linux will struggle as its open source descendent, Android, takes off. Finally, Palm's webOS will retain a niche, but will be held down by limited availability.
It seems that IDC's analysis of the ebb and flow of various mobile operating systems is better grounded, at this point, than assessing the total number of smartphones that will ship. It's possible to make reasonable assumptions about platforms because they compete against each other. Guessing shipments, however, depends on the maturity of the market and the sectors against which the group as a whole competes.
The wireless sector clearly is immature, and there still are basic unknowns about its competition. For instance, it's impossible to say whether the iPad and other tablets will eat away at the top of the smartphone sector or whether the increased functionality of feature phones will erode the bottom of its market.
The point here isn't to critique IDC. The firm, and other analysts, are paid to figure out how quickly and to what extent markets will expand or contract. The point is that observers should see the big picture, which is that the wireless and cellular sector is exploding. While it is possible to generally assess who the big winners and losers will likely be, it is impossible to quantify those guesses.
One thing is certain: A lot of money will be made. How it will be divvied up will only become clear as the future unfolds.