Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Smartphone Penetration Reaches 17%

Good news for Google today as it launches the Nexus One, its own high-end mobile device. The proportion of adult U.S. subscribers owning smartphones jumped to 17% last year from 11% in 2008 and 7% in 2007, according to new data from Forrester Research.

The growth rate has held steady from 2008 even as the user base has expanded -- a good sign, because new technologies often initially have gaudy growth numbers before declining rapidly as adoption increases, said Forrester.

While Apple may boast the glamour device of the smartphone world, the research firm points out that BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion has maintained a two-to-one advantage over the iPhone in market share. It cites factors such as availability across all carriers, pricing and its Qwerty keyboard for the BlackBerry's continued popularity.

To clarify exactly what constitutes a smartphone, which lacks an industry-wide definition, Forrester set out its own: "a mobile phone or connected handheld device that uses a high-level operating system, including iPhone OS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, PalmOS, WebOS, Symbian, and any flavor of Linux including Android."

It also distinguished smartphones from quick messaging devices (QMDs) such as the LG Xenon that have a Qwerty keyboard and/or a touchscreen, but run on a proprietary software platform rather than a smartphone OS. But between the two types of devices, one in three subscribers has a smartphone or a QMD, up from one in five less than a year ago.

What about 2010? "This will be the year of the smartphone, now that multiple device OEMs and multiple carriers are offering Android devices, and those ranks will grow (we expect AT&T to join the crowd in the first half of the year) as will the range of Android form factors and prices," wrote Forrester mobile analyst Charles Golvin in a blog post Monday.

He added that this year is also a warning call to Nokia and Microsoft, as their respective market shares will continue to tumble if their products fail to meet consumer demands.