Smartphone platform success hard to predict

Forecasting fickle consumer tastes in mobile devices is a perilous business, and there is little agreement among the analysts as they roll out their latest smartphone estimates.
 
We’ve seen IDC predicting that WP7 will overtake iOS by 2015, with Android leading on almost 40% share. Gartner is even more bullish about Android, forecasting that it will achieve almost 50% smartphone share as early as 2012.
 
Both these conclusions rely on Symbian falling out of the market very quickly once Nokia launches WP7 handsets at the turn of the year, but another piece of research, by GigaOM Pro, believes Symbian will still be in second place in 2015, with 24% share of shipments (while Gartner thinks it will have about 1% share then).
 
Some of the differences are down to different definitions. The GigaOM survey, by Alloy Market Research, includes all cellphones with a full operating system, and concedes that Symbian's resilience will largely be based on low end models and emerging markets. The other studies are focused on the higher end of the smartphone definition. But the wildly different views also reflect the high degree of uncertainty in the segment. While Android's leadership is hardly questioned, there are many important variables that affect the other players - the impact of Nokia on WP7, and the ability of Symbian, BlackBerry OS and webOS to stay alive.
 
Nokia is certainly keen to stress that Symbian will be a living platform for several years, even though it will transition its high end offering as quickly as possible. On April 12 it will set out its Symbian strategy and product plans.
 
One area where it is easier to gauge Nokia's current decline is on the financial markets, where the Finnish giant's capitalization has fallen behind that of HTC, neatly reflecting the broader pattern of the handset business - Android and smartphones up, Symbian and midrange phones down.
 
 
According to Bloomberg, a 5.3% increase in HTC's share price took its value to US$33.8 billion (€23.4 billion) on Tuesday, overtaking Nokia's $33.6 billion. This is all the more ironic because HTC initially built its fortunes on being Microsoft's main partner for Windows Mobile, before bringing Android into its strategy. Yet it was Nokia's decision to back Windows that caused one of the sharpest drops in its share price, in February.
 
The value of HTC's shares has tripled in the past year, largely because of its association with Android, although it remains the WinMo market leader by a long way, with almost 80% of that segment last year. Nokia's shares have fallen by 19% so far this year.
 
Richard Ko, a Taipei-based analyst at KGI Securities, wrote in a research note: "Investors we spoke with generally agree that HTC's 2011 shipments will outperform the industry by a significant margin."
 

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