By the end of 2011, a number of smartphone vendors will have placed some very big bets on their latest smartphones. If you subscribe to current rumors, Apple almost certainly plans to debut its iPhone 5 sometime in either September or October. Research In Motion just released a new slate of BlackBerry devices it will push aggressively to businesses and consumers. And Microsoft-hand in hand with Nokia and some other hardware manufacturers-will begin to make a second large drive for its Windows Phone platform.
A wide variety of manufacturers-including HTC and Samsung-will also continue to produce a few handsets loaded with Google Android.
Nobody can predict the future with certainty, and it would be a fool's game to try and predict the various vendors' precise market share a year from now. That being said, there's enough data floating around to make some (relatively) educated guesses about the state of the market come 2012.
For the most part, analysts seem to think Apple will continue its robust sales run. "Apple has yet to top Nokia's single-quarter volume record of 28.1 million units," Ramon Llamas, an analyst with research firm IDC, wrote in an Aug. 4 note. "But given Apple's momentum in the smartphone market, it may not be a question of whether Apple will beat that milestone, but when."
The IDC note suggested that Apple's unit shipments increased 141.7 percent between the second quarter of 2011 and the same period in 2010. Samsung's rose 380.6 percent, HTC's 165.9 percent and RIM's 10.7 percent. The big loser was Nokia, which declined 30.4 percent from the year-ago quarter.
Both HTC and Samsung benefitted from their Android phone portfolios. However, the note suggests that RIM is facing some pitfalls in the quarters ahead: "The company has released only a few new models so far this year, leaving the bulk of its shipments to be comprised of older, less expensive models ... that has allowed its competitors to grab mindshare and market share with multiple new models."
To top that off, "many vendors have targeted business users with enterprise-grade smartphones, which have long been RIM's stronghold."
RIM is depending on its latest slate of BlackBerry smartphones, which offer revamped hardware and the new BlackBerry 7 OS, to act as a sort of placeholder until its QNX-powered smartphones can hit the market sometime in 2012. However, analysts haven't been sharing the company's public optimism about the new devices.
"We cut our estimates below consensus based on checks that handset shipments will be worse than expected in the Nov. Q despite the sell-in of the new OS 7 handsets," Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., wrote in an Aug. 4 note to investors. "We continue to believe the story hinges on QNX, which we believe will be delayed to [the second half of 2012] vs. guidance of early CY12."
Meanwhile, Nokia finds itself struggling in the fallow months before it releases its first devices running Windows Phone. The Finnish company has been bleeding users ever since it announced the abandonment of Symbian, its homegrown mobile OS, in favor of Microsoft's offering. Analysts have suggested overall adoption of Windows Phone is relatively stagnant.
Based on that data, then, it seems as if Apple-buttressed by the probable release of the iPhone 5 later this year-and some Android manufacturers such as Samsung will continue to gain and hold market share, while RIM and Nokia will likely struggle to find their footing. As with everything in the fast-moving world of tech, though, unforeseen events could shift the mobile market in a whole new direction.