What would the year in mobile handsets, especially smartphones, have been like if the economy hadn't taken a plunge in September? That's one of the questions that comes to mind on seeing metrics from ABI Research released Jan. 29.
Calling 2008 a "year of two halves," ABI researchers said mobile handset shipments grew 14 percent year over year in the first half of the year but hit a brick wall in the fourth quarter, falling 10 percent.
The September credit crunch was kind to no one, and handset makers clearly felt the sting: fewer phones in Christmas stockings everywhere.
The net result? The year closed with 1.21 billion handsets shipped for an annual growth of 5.4 percent compared with 16 percent growth from 2007, Jake Saunders, Asia-Pacific vice president of ABI Research, said in a statement.
Capitalizing on a strong first half of 2008, Samsung gets the market share growth prize with 2.7 percent thanks to its Omnia and Ultra series handsets, while Nokia's handset share grew 1.8 percent to a world-beating 38.6 percent. LG's share grew 1.5 percent.
But given the second-half drop, some vendors had to suffer. That would be Motorola, whose woes are well-chronicled. The company, which just laid off 4,000 employees, saw a 5.1 percent dip in 2008. Clinging to an 8.3 percent share, Motorola is looking to retrench in 2009 by eschewing Windows Mobile devices for smartphones based on Google's Android operating system.
Sony-Ericsson saw a 0.7 percent dip contraction in market share.
RIM (Research In Motion), which had successful BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Storm smartphone rollouts, increased its market share 0.9 percent to 1.9 percent. The market share of Apple's iPhone grew 0.8 percent to 1.2 percent, impressive considering the iPhone is less than two years old. So, what about Android?
Not much to tell. T-Mobile, HTC and Google launched the G1 Android smartphone Oct. 22, 2008, too late in the year to make much impact. However, ABI Research noted that HTC has significant contracts in place to press its advantage in 2009. Indeed, rumors of a T-Mobile G2 from HTC abound.
What else can we expect from the handset market in 2009? Saunders said he expects a possible year-over-year handset shipment drop of 5 to 10 percent thanks to the recession.
Saunders also said he believes handset vendors will be trying to convince everyone they should own smartphones, which, thanks to the iPhone and other devices, have become a breeding ground for new Web services. "Welcome to the Year of the Smartphone," he concluded.
The folks at ABI Research are having fun with prognostications this week. Analyst Kevin Burden said he expects a market explosion for netbooks, those low-cost Web surfing notebook PCs, with worldwide shipments rising to an estimated 139 million in 2013.