Keep an eye on smartphone shipment stats

by Sandra Vogel on 01.02.2011 04:30
Three research reports released in the last few days indicate that a sea change in smartphone buying might be underway. The medium and long term implications for corporate tech buying decisions could be far reaching.

The first report was the Advanced OS Handset Market Report from analyst GfK showing that BlackBerry had the bestselling smartphone in December. Now, reportage on this comes from BlackBerry itself rather than GfK, and the press release from Research In Motion, makers of the BlackBerry, doesn’t say which of its handsets takes the honours.

But RIM does say that half a million BlackBerry devices were sold in the UK in December, giving it 36 percent of the smartphone market and 14.9 percent of the overall mobile phone market in that month.

The second report came again from GfK and this time it is available for all of us to look at. TechTalk is a regular publication in which GfK brings together a range of research findings and analysis in one place. It covers a number of topics and is well worth a read.

Early in the report comes an analysis pointing out that the smartphone market is there for the taking and that the ‘mobile ecosystem’ will be crucial to customer loyalty as people change handsets. If customers aren’t loyal to a brand or an operating system, then the whole market is up for grabs. That’s good from an innovation and marketing point of view, less good if you are trying to get stability into your purchasing decisions.

And the third report comes from analyst Canalys. It says Android is the world’s leading smartphone platform. It is perhaps not surprising that this is the case. There are many manufacturers using the platform in their smartphones, and the number of handsets available grew throughout 2010 to span a huge range of prices with Android handsets costing as little as £99 on pay as you go terms in the UK.

The headline figures are 32.9 million Android based handsets being sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2010 as opposed to 31.0 million Symbian based handsets. Just as significantly year on year overall sales in smartphones rose a massive 89 percent.

Interestingly for those who have invested in Microsoft’s smartphone platform, the massive growth has not been reflected in its sales performance – it is the only player to have experienced a year on year loss.

In part this is no doubt due to Microsoft’s release of a new operating system, Windows Phone 7, which is not backwards compatible with its predecessors. In part, too, Microsoft has simply lost ground to what are seen as snazzier devices. You’ll find the Canalys press release with a market share table here.

All of this indicates a smartphone market that is in a state of flux. With Microsoft languishing and Palm nowhere to be seen in the analysis, Android, Nokia, RIM and Apple are fighting it out for the top spot.

RIM may be only part way through an upward curve, or it may be reaching its peak. Its updated operating system was generally well received last year, and the company is working hard to embrace both consumers and corporate users at the same time.

Nokia needs to prove its new ^3 operating system can deliver the goods, and the jury seems to be out on that at the moment.

Android needs to keep ensuring it innovates at the pace it has done, and it may find itself stretched as its operating system splits between tablet based devices and smartphones. Apple too, needs to continue to innovate though arguably its loyal fanbase cares less about having the most technically capable equipment than it does about style.

Currently, the enterprise is spoilt for choice with so many platforms on offer. However, if you currently expect your smartphone purchases to last more than a year, you’d do well to keep an eye on the trends and innovations coming along the road. It may well pay to back a winner.