iPhone setting pace in European market for smartphones

The ongoing demand for smartphones continues to bring relief to handset vendors and operators. The two leading brands--albeit not by volume--Apple and RIM, have set benchmarks for functionality and usability other vendors still struggle to emulate.

Only recently has the industry seen Nokia and several Asian handset vendors make real challenges to these smartphone brand leaders, increasingly helped by the involvement of Google with its Android platform, and by Nokia reducing its unwieldy portfolio of Symbian-based smartphones and instead focusing on a small number of stronger models.

But from a European perspective, the iPhone sets a very tough benchmark for all other handset manufacturers, and the company was able to negotiate very favourable distribution deals with operators scrambling to sign exclusive supply contracts. The success of this product, measured in new subscribers and surging data traffic, has been beyond the wildest dreams of those able to secure an iPhone distribution deal, and misery for those that failed.

However, the European landscape has been flattened somewhat following a ruling by the French courts that other operators be allowed to sell the iPhone, which has been followed by Apple relaxing its exclusivity arrangements and allowing other operators access to this Holy Grail handset.

The European launch late last week of the Palm Pre--together with its exclusive distribution model--might also have an impact on the future direction of smartphones, although it's very doubtful that this handset will be able to reshape the market as achieved by Apple.

Click here for a look at the top five smartphones that already have made a lasting impact in Europe.-Paul