Smartphone revolution tests established players

Kieth mallison wiseharborWith smartphones set to account for most handset sales by 2013--in terms of value if not also in terms of volumes worldwide--these devices, their operating systems and mobile Internet service delivery environments are crucial competitive elements for manufacturers and mobile operators alike. Several new entrants, rapid market growth and the precipitous share decline for leader Nokia underline that this is still an emerging marketplace. The pecking order is being reestablished with major upsets for various leading names.

Nothing could be more disruptive than Apple's iPhone and its App Store offering 85,000 applications and 2 billion downloads to date. This is an enormous success for Apple, a mixed blessing for its mobile operator partners with the business model Apple imposes and it is a major threat for many others. As Apple takes the lion's share of ecosystem value and dis-intermediates operators from applications sales with its own user experience and billing platform, partner and competing operators alike are looking for alternatives.

And Apple is just getting into its stride. It has plenty of scope to expand distribution with competing operators when exclusive deals expire. It supplies to just 80 nations so far. Corporate purchasing is only beginning to introduce iPhone, as is higher education. Apple claims more than 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies are evaluating iPhone for widespread deployment.

The smartphone market segment has been splintered. Nokia smartphones and its Symbian operating system have taken double digit market share losses over the last year or two, albeit with significant market growth. Once ruling supreme with shares of 50 percent in smartphones and 60 percent in smartphone OS, market entry of iPhone and Google's Android, together with stellar growth for BlackBerry and modest progress for Microsoft have harmed Nokia irrevocably. Further declines are inevitable as emerging competitors strengthen.

What's particularly scary for Nokia is that Apple's relatively small iPhone volumes are generating sales in the third quarter of 2009 of $4.5 billion compared to Euro 6.9 billion ($9.7 billion) for all Nokia's handset sales. Gross profits for iPhone are getting close to Nokia's Euro 2.1 billion ($3 billion). Although Nokia shipped 110 million devices in the quarter, the average price of these was just Euro 62 ($87). In comparison, iPhones yield an average of $610 apiece at the wholesale prices paid by operators...Continued

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