In much expected fashion, the mobile phone market so far this year has provided us no shortage of newsworthy events: the arrival of the iPhone at Verizon Wireless, AT&T's announcement to acquire T-Mobile USA, and Nokia's shift in smartphone strategy to name just a few. I'd challenge nearly any other industry that has seen such market-shaking news. On top of that has been the non-stop flow of new smartphones to the market, too many to name in this column.
Now that we have reached the halfway point of 2011, here's my short list of things I'm looking forward to seeing during the second half of this year. Some of it is speculation, others are pulled from articles seen here on FierceWireless and other blogs. They are all slated-supposedly--to come out later this year.
iPhone 5? Ever since 2007, the end of June/start of July has been an annual celebration for Apple fanboys and fangirls with the arrival of the new iPhone. This year, there was no such celebration, even after Apple introduced the new iOS 5 in June. Current blog posts point to a fall release, perhaps September or October. Should this actually come to pass, at the very least I'd hope for a dual-core A5 processor, similar to the iPad 2. An LTE-powered iPhone should not be ruled out; it could, perhaps, be the "one more thing" that Apple may have up its sleeve to delight customers. Maybe it's a reason why Verizon Wireless is capping data limits now?
Nokia's WP7 smartphones. I'm looking forward to this for two reasons in particular: First, I like Windows Phone. It's a different approach to a smartphone user interface compared to what is currently available in the market, and Nokia will be able to bring a lot of its own assets to the WP experience. Second, I'm guessing that Nokia is not just going to launch a smartphone to the market; it's going to unleash a smartphone and attack the market with something on par with what is currently available, along with some additional features. Nokia's new smartphones will inevitably draw comparisons to every other smartphone on the market, and that is to be expected. What remains to be seen is the cadence of device subsequent device releases, the number of devices, and finally, how the market will accept them.
Rise of the Asian smartphone vendors. Huawei. Pantech. ZTE. Chances are, most people in the United States would not recognize the names of these smartphone vendors. In fact, most of these are known as vendors of prepaid mobile phones. That is changing quickly. Already, Huawei has its Comet at T-Mobile and the Ascend at Cricket and MetroPCS. Pantech has its Crossover at AT&T. ZTE currently does not have a smartphone at any of the major carriers, but given its track record in other regions and its own plans of competing in the U.S. market, that may change soon too. Given their lower price points and experiences that are close to those found on popular smartphones today, Asian smartphone vendors may end up becoming a key driver in the US smartphone market.
NFC. If there is one technological development that I really want to see work, and work well, it's this. Traveling to other parts of the world where magnetic stripes on credit cards have been replaced by smart chips has shown how far mobile commerce technology has come. And how far mobile commerce in the United States has not. Google fired the first salvo with its Wallet feature for Android phones in May, and other companies are expected to follow suit. Will it revolutionize the way we purchase goods and services? My guess is not immediately, as a number of other pieces and players have to be lined up. Still, just as smartphones have changed the way people communicate, NFC has an incredible potential to change the way people shop.
The intersection of tablets and smartphones. Tablets and smartphones have proved that they can co-exist and not cannibalize each other's markets, and it's not hard to imagine that those who own a tablet most likely own a smartphone as well. But in the short time it has taken the tablet market to mature, having a connection to the smartphone has become critical to transfer and share information. RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and HP's TouchPad have both demonstrated how the value of a tablet can be increased when paired with a smartphone to access e-mails, contacts, and other personal information. My guess is that we'll see more data being shared back and forth: music, pictures, video, perhaps even mobile applications as well. But it won't just be incumbent upon the hardware to make it all happen. Much of this will be cloud based as well.
I'm sure I've missed other potential future developments in the upcoming months, so feel free to add your own suggestions as to what else we can expect for the rest of the year.
Ramon Llamas is a senior research analyst with IDC's Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team. In his role, Llamas tracks the quarterly results of the leading and emerging mobile device vendors, and uses the data to forecast the short-term and long-term direction of the mobile device market, and how it affects handset vendors, carriers and customers. He recently released his worldwide mobile phone and smartphone 2010 - 2014 forecasts, as well as a worldwide forecast of the mobile phone touchscreen market. In addition to being featured in FierceWireless, Llamas has been featured on Bloomberg Radio, National Public Radio, and quoted in Investor's Business Daily, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Llamas can be reached at [email protected].