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Monday, 02 February 2009 06:52

Smartphone growth leads the way in weakening mobile market

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As the economy took its toll on the mobile handset market in the last quarter of 2008, it is becoming increasingly clear that smartphones are moving into the mainstream led by Blackberry and iPhone, according to a new report.

According to an ABI Research report, with 171 million smartphones sold globally in 2008, the high end devices captured more than 14% of the 1.21 billion handset market in 2008. Meanwhile, a devastating last quarter of the year sounded an ominous warning that the overall market could suffer a contraction in 2009.

Like other surveys of the market, ABI Research found that 2008 was a year of two halves - the year started out with a bang and ended with a bust

In the first half, mobile handset shipments happily chugged along at 14% year on uear growth. In the second half, 3Q handset shipments slowed to 8% before crashing into the Red in 4Q with -10%.

"Sheer fear sapped the confidence of consumers, enterprises and corporate users across the board," says Jake Saunders, Asia-Pacific Vice-President of ABI Research.

"As a result, 2008 signed out the year with 1.21 billion handsets shipped for an annual growth of 5.4%. Just a year ago we had +16%."

According to ABI Research, among the mobile handset vendors there were winners and losers but the most impressive performances came from two smartphone players RIM (Blackberry) and Apple (iPhone).

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Kevin Burden, practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research noted that the biggest players Samsung (+2.7%),  Nokia (+1.8%) and LG ( +1.5%) all gained market share in 2008. However, Nokia's share declined in the second half and the decline accelerated in 4Q.

“While those three manufacturers dominate the global market, it probably would not come as a surprise to many that RIM (Blackberry) and Apple (iPhone) boldly moved up in the market-share stakes with growths of 0.9% and 0.8% respectively,” said Burden

According to ABI Research, despite the tough economic climate, RIM and Apple are likely to continue their march to the consumer centre-stage but it in a way that does not drop their handset ASPs to bargain basement levels. HTC was  late entering the consumer smartphone market with the Android-based G1, but the vendor has significant contracts in place (such as T-Mobile) which should play to the its advantage in 2009.

The biggest loser in 2008 was Motorola with –5.1% drop in market share in 2008 (8.3%). Little consolation that this was an improvement on 2007 in which the firm suffered a –7.8% drop.

Although quite as dramatic, Sony-Ericsson also stumbled in the mid part of 2008 with a -0.7% contraction in market-share.

The outlook for 2009, according to ABI Research is anything but rosy. However, it should come us welcome news for the likes of RIM and Apple.

"Sharp revisions to country-by-country economic conditions in the space of just three months will likely mean that a YoY handset shipment contraction of between -5% and -10% is becoming a distinct possibility," said ABI's Saunders.

"What is certain is that handset vendors will be trying to convince everyone they should own a smartphone. Welcome to the Year of Smartphone."

Further info can be had from ABI Research.

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Stan Beer

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Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 35 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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