Smartphones Changing the Network
The big news today was the official release of the iPhone 3Gs, which plugged a number of the significant technical holes in the iPhone platform (cut-and-paste, camera quality, video, etc.) that had been the weak spots in the platform since its launch. (N.b. I received mine via UPS this morning, and was able to navigate the upgrade process without any significant hitches.) While most of the features are incremental upgrades, both the camera improvements (including video) and the speed improvements are definitely noticeable.
Although the iPhone seems to get a disproportionate share of the media attention, the market is definitely not a one-horse race. Palm has sold over 100,000 of its new Palm Pre devices, which became available on June 6 of this year. The Pre is a gorgeous, capable device that has the one thing the iPhone doesn’t — a slide-out, physical keyboard. Engadget says “Yes, this is epic stuff. The Pre (and its accompanying operating system) could likely decide the fate of the company largely credited with ushering in the age of the do-everything phone. Since Palm’s announcement at CES this year, news surrounding the Pre has been a veritable whirlwind of activity: rumors, half-truths, hate, love, fear-mongering, fanboyism, rampant gadget-lust… and even a little late night celebrity for the pint-sized phone. Finally the time has come to put rubber to road and get into the guts of this thing once and for all. Can the Pre and webOS live up to the hype — the kind of hype we haven’t seen since the launch of the original iPhone — or do they snap under the pressure?” Indeed, the Pre may be the make-or-break moment for Palm, which ruled the roost in the Personal Digital Assistant market for so long, but has seen its fortunes decline as the smartphone platform absorbed all the primary capabilities of what had previously been a standalone device.
Not to be outdone, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) announced earnings on Thursday, noting that it moved 7.8 million new BlackBerry devices, signed 3.8 million new subscriber accounts and raked in $3.42 billion in revenue for their first quarter. (Note that this means RIM moved twice as many BlackBerries as Apple did iPhones during the quarter.) Geek.com says: “[Research firm NPD] said that smartphone category grew its share of the overall mobile phone market six percent annually, having jumped from 17 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to nearly one quarter (23 percent) of the entire mobile phone market. According to Rubin, this serves as clear indication of the rising popularity of the smartphone category that, by many analysts’ estimates, is already reshuffling the entire market. ‘Even in the challenging economy, consumers are migrating toward web-capable handsets and their supporting data plans to access more information and entertainment on the go,’ Rubin noted.”
Handset giant Nokia is in the game as well, not surprisingly. Their Nokia N97 entrant also shipped this month, and carries forward touches like a high-end camera that earlier models such as the N95 sported. Gartner reports that Nokia shipped 60.9 million smartphones in 2008, and carried a global 43.7% market share…more than twice as much as nearest-competitor RIM.
So what does this mean? It means that the network is changing, dramatically. Nearly one quarter of the new mobile devices coming on line are smartphones, with a huge year-over-year jump in the rate of change. Capabilities in the areas of performance and storage seem to be doubling yearly. Integration with social networks, content sharing sites, chat and other social features are being built right into the platform. And, perhaps most importantly, the explosion in application development for the devices (led by the 50,000+ apps in the Apple iTunes App Store) indicate both developer embrace and customer uptake of the mobile device as a powerful – and perhaps soon-to-be primary – means of connecting with the network.