Smart phone shipments to grow despite overall mobile decline

Smart phones made up about 14 percent of all mobile devices shipped globally in 2008 and should increase to more than 17 percent of the total in 2009, according to new projections from ABI Research. in New York.

However, the expected increase in smart phone shipments in 2009 will occur even as the overall total number of mobile devices shipped declines from 1.21 billion in 2008 to 1.17 billion in 2009, a drop of 2.5 percent, ABI analyst Kevin Burden said Thursday.

The gloomy global economy will be one factor in the decline for all mobile device shipments in 2009, but another is how uncomfortable consumers have become with sophisticated new devices that they don't understand how to use fully, Burden said in an interview.

"We're seeing that people already have in their possession capable phones with color screens and more, and it may be that they already have the phone they are happy with," Burden said. "So the bad economy becomes an excuse not to get a more sophisticated phone. It's a question of simplicity and of getting a mobile phone with features beyond their capability to use."

One theme of several recent CTIA and International CES trade shows has been how new handhelds are often shipped with so many features and functions that users hardly ever use 10 percent of all the features, or even learn how to use them, Burden and other analysts have said.

So, if overall new mobile phones are so sophisticated that users might not want to buy a new one, why would smart phones like the iPhone be growing in popularity, with shipments expected to increase in 2009? According to Burden, smart phones started selling only recently, and their growth is "magnified" by the early-adopter effect of one group of users wanting to try something new.

ABI said that about 116 million smart phones shipped globally in 2007, which mushroomed to 171 million in 2008 and should reach 203 million in 2009. That percentage increase from 2008 to 2009 is an increase of 18 percent, which Burden called "slow growth" in comparison to what should have happened were the economy better.

For all of 2008, the first half of mobile handset shipments was 14 percent higher than the first half of 2007, which dropped to 8 percent for the third quarter compared with the same quarter of 2007, ABI said. Then in the fourth quarter, shipments "crashed" by 10 percent compared with the final quarter of 2007. "Sheer fear sapped the confidence of consumers, enterprises and corporate users across the board," said Jake Saunders, an ABI analyst, in a statement.

ABI also released 2008 year-end numbers showing that Nokia Corp. had 38.6 percent of all 1.21 billion cell phone shipments globally, followed by Samsung Electronics at 16.2 percent, LG Electronics at 8.3 percent, Motorola at 8.3 percent, Sony Ericsson at 8 percent, Research in Motion Ltd. at 1.9 percent, Kyocera at 1.4 percent, Apple (shipping two versions of iPhone) at 1.1 percent, HTC at 1.1 percent, Sharp at 1 percent and all others at 14 percent .

Burden called RIM and Apple the boldest movers in 2008 with new devices, and said they are likely "to continue their march to the consumer center stage." HTC also brought out the Android-based G1 and has significant contracts for 2009 that should play to its advantage, he added.

Motorola lost the most market share, dropping by 5 percent in the rankings, which was better than 2007 when Motorola dropped nearly 8 percent in the rankings.

"It will be a tough year for Motorola but it needs to deliver handsets that draw back the once-faithful Motorola purchaser before it is truly too late," Burden added. "The challenge is that purchasers in 2009 will be very, very picky."

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