Mobile World Getting Smarter By the Day


Gartner's mobile phone results from the first quarter of the year contained no big surprises: Times were bad for the overall industry, but pretty good for the smartphone segment. The consultancy said total sales dropped 8.6 percent compared to the year-ago quarter. The smartphone sector, which represents 13.5 percent of the total, rose 12.7 percent. In raw numbers, there were 269.1 million units sold overall. About 36.4 million of those were smartphones.

The vendor rankings remained fairly consistent as well, though there was some slight shifts and jostling. In the overall market, the top five were Nokia (36.2 percent), Samsung (19.1 percent), LG (9.9 percent), Motorola (6.2 percent and Sony Ericsson (5.4 percent). The major changes compared to the first quarter of 2008 were that Nokia lost 2.9 percentage points and LG and Motorola flipped positions.

The same trends were apparent on the smartphone vendor front. The top five smartphones during the first quarter were Nokia (41.2 percent), Research in Motion (19.9 percent), Apple (10.8 percent), HTC (5.4 percent) and Fujitsu (3.8 percent). During the year-ago quarter, Nokia was stronger by almost 4 percentage points and the positions of HTC and Fujitsu were switched.

The buzz no doubt will continue around smartphones, and likely extend the good news/bad news dynamic represented in Gartner's numbers. The launch of Palm's Pre, which has been set for June 6, is generating a lot of excitement. The device, the first to use the vendor's Web OS, will cost $199.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year contract with Sprint. The iPhone 3.0, rumored to be in the pipeline for a summer launch, also will push the category.

And so it goes. The bottom line is that all the attention in the mobile phone sector is on the smart variety, and that the trend will accelerate as the applications become more sophisticated. The next step, perhaps a few years in the future, will be for smartphones to overtake traditional cell phones in total unit sales. In the shorter term, look for that 13.5 percent number to increase rather rapidly. The real competition to smartphones will not come from traditional cell phones or the slightly brighter feature phones. The battle will be between smartphones and the MIDs and netbooks that together constitute the other hot category in mobile devices.