Wireless Smartphone Strategies

The industry’s most comprehensive set of critical market statistics and qualitative analysis, tracking and reporting on smartphones.

January 10, 2012 15:07 Alex Spektor

Yesterday’s Nokia announcement at CES of an AT&T-bound Lumia 900 Windows Phone with LTE represents a significant win for the device vendor, whose marketshare in the smartphone-hungry North American market, as illustrated here, has been on a steady decline for at least the past 4 years.

Together with the earlier-announced T-Mobile version of the Lumia 710, Nokia will now have at least two smartphones selling in the US that are not based on Symbian, a platform that had only niche appeal to US consumers and operators.

According to the Strategy Analytics Handset Country Share Tracker (HCST) service, T-Mobile was Nokia’s most important operator client for smartphones in the US in 2011, as the vendor’s business-centric Eseries devices are long gone from AT&T’s portfolio. So what is likely to happen with the arrival of the two new Lumia models?

At AT&T:

  • Time-to-market will be a critical factor for the Lumia 900. Rival HTC has also just announced its first LTE Windows Phone, the Titan II, which could steal some of Nokia’s thunder with an early arrival. Highlighting unique-to-Nokia capabilities like Drive navigation will be critical in attracting Windows Phone buyers.
  • The Lumia 900 alone will not instantly catapult Nokia into first, second, or even third place at the operator, and the vendor will be faced from heavy competition from Samsung and HTC, both of whom will be fighting for the #2 spot behind Apple.
  • RIM, with its below-average superphone portfolio, could be hurt the most here. If, indeed, there is only room for 3 competing platforms, then AT&T’s OS-diverse portfolio could squeeze the BlackBerry maker’s volumes in 2012.

At T-Mobile:

  • Following the recent arrival of the Sprint iPhone, T-Mobile has become the only major US operator without a strong third platform.
  • The low-priced (US$50 with contract) Lumia 710 will have a lot of appeal to cost-sensitive feature phone upgraders.
  • Nokia will not compete with pricy HSPA+ 4G superphones, but rather will take volume from more low-end devices from Samsung and LG, as well as T-Mobile’s own myTouch brand, as consumers look for a simpler alternative to Android.

Ultimately, the success of these two handsets depends largely on the level of promotional support given to them by the operators, especially in retail stores where a lot consumers make their decisions based on sales rep recommendations. Nokia has been working closely with both carriers on this dimension, winning critical drive slots and retail display real estate.

Finally, it is worth to note the significance of both the AT&T and the T-Mobile phone carrying the Lumia sub-brand, rather than their own re-branding. Globally recognizable, memorable sub-brands have been key parts of the strategy for the world’s leading smartphone vendors (e.g., Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy). In the operator-dominated US market shared brands are still a rarity, and we see this as a positive sign for Nokia’s long-term recovery.

Alex Spektor
Wireless Smartphone Strategies


January 12, 2011 21:17 Alex Spektor

After years of public speculation, AT&T has finally lost its US exclusive on Apple’s megastar smartphone. As consumers prepare for the arrival of the Verizon Wireless (VZW) iPhone, we address some questions about the impact of this development.

Just how many iPhones will they sell?clip_image002

AT&T customers bought an average of around 4 million iPhones per quarter in 2010. Even if VZW achieves a conservative half of that run rate, it could mean 8 million CDMA iPhones shipped domestically in the first year. In addition to newcomers from other carriers, buyers will include existing subscribers, whose contracts will steadily come up for renewal over the next two years.

Of course, no longer the only option for iOS enthusiasts, AT&T volumes of the iPhone are likely to suffer this year. We can reference the end of iPhone exclusivity in Western Europe for an example of what may happen. As our Handset Country Share Tracker service shows, Apple’s peak share at exclusive carrier O2 UK was 10%. By the time the phone was also introduced at Vodafone and Orange, Apple’s share was roughly just 5-6% with each carrier.

Thus, while Apple’s total volumes are going to benefit as a result of this week’s announcement, neither carrier should expect to see the iPhone account for anywhere near the huge 70% of smartphone volumes that AT&T recorded in Q3 2010.

What impact will the network have?

Aside from a revised radio section and some cosmetic tweaks, the availability of a Wi-Fi hotspot feature is the only official new feature of the VZW iPhone. But AT&T defectors may find one other difference – the inability to simultaneously use voice and data on a CDMA network. As Droid users know, Wi-Fi data access can be used as a limited substitute, but expect outcries of a “lesser” experience from some frustrated buyers. Of course, the inevitable LTE iPhone (in 2012, perhaps?) will eventually equalize this matter.

Unlike AT&T, VZW does not have a bandwidth cap on its US$30/month plan. AT&T’s US$25/month plan provides just 2GB, which protects the carrier’s pipes from overloading, but prevents carefree use of compelling, but bandwidth-hogging apps like NetFlix. Coupled with broad perception that VZW is more reliable, it could mean an upside for the phone’s new carrier. However, we can expect AT&T to send a heavy message about its HSPA network being faster than its competitor’s EV-DO Rev. A.

How will this impact the competition?

AT&T has been preparing for the loss of exclusivity since at least early last year, adding a broad range of Android (and later Windows Phone 7) models. Expect an onslaught of high-end Android handsets (such as the Motorola Atrix 4G) to quickly replace lost iPhone volumes at AT&T, benefitting the likes of Samsung and HTC.

Meanwhile, VZW’s strong Droid brand of Google-phones is likely to take a hit. VZW subscribers looking for a less complex experience than Android’s will find the iPhone to be a gem, cannibalizing the carrier’s own volumes. The real impact, however, will be felt by RIM. The BlackBerry portfolio still lacks a solid full-screen touchphone, and unless the Canadian vendor comes up with one soon, it stands to lose further share with VZW.

-Alex Spektor

USA Smartphone OS Marketshare by Operator: Q3 2010

Global Smartphone Sales Forecast by Operating System: 2002 to 2015


December 8, 2010 13:12 Alex Spektor
In recent years, the titans of the handset industry have been surprised by the success of newcomers. First, Apple – a computer vendor – shook up the smartphone market by storm, taking Nokia’s profit crown in the process. Then, Google – an advertising/search firm – brought to market a new mobile operating system, quickly overshadowing historic leaders RIM and Microsoft. Now, Google’s Android has also become the fastest-growing major smartphone platform, having shipped more than twice as many handsets in the first eight quarters.

Cumulative Shipments, First 8 Quarters

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Google’s successful growth has been enabled by strong support from its many partner vendors. As the first Android handset maker, HTC long enjoyed top market share, steadily broadening its portfolio across protocols (including hot “4G” technologies like HSPA+ and WiMAX), global carriers, and retail price points, staying ahead of Android competitors Motorola and Samsung. Historically, Samsung’s smartphone share had been disproportionate to its successful position in the overall market, and we had long commented on the matter. However, starting in Q3 2010, Samsung became the world’s largest Android vendor. Samsung accomplished this by launching an all-out assault across the globe with its Galaxy S family of handsets. For example, in the fickle US market, where each carrier has demanding compliance and customization requirements, Samsung launched a Galaxy S phone with each major carrier. Samsung’s share of the global handset market has tripled since 2001, when it was already a third-ranked player. Given that historic show of determination, the vendor’s leap to first place in Android smartphones should not at all be surprising. Expect Samsung to expand this leadership position in 2011 and beyond, riding Android’s coattails to huge smartphone volumes. -Alex Spektor Samsung Overtakes HTC to Become World's Largest Android Vendor in Q3 2010 Global Smartphone OS Market Share by Region: Q3 2010

August 11, 2010 14:08 Alex Spektor
It may be the exclusive iPhone carrier in the US, but AT&T is also becoming an attractive option for consumers looking to buy an Android handset. Though things weren’t always as they are today. If T-Mobile was the clear early leader in Android adoption among tier-one US carriers, then AT&T was the clear laggard. Let us quickly recap highlights from the US Android timeline:
  • T-Mobile launched the first Android phone in the world in late 2008.
  • It took approximately one year for Verizon Wireless and Sprint to bring to market their own models, in time for the 2009 holiday season.
  • AT&T began selling its first Android handset quite recently: in March 2010.
Less than six months later, AT&T will have as many as five Android phones in its portfolio. This won’t be quite as many as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, but it will put AT&T roughly on par with Sprint. AT&T will also be a leader from a variety standpoint, offering smartphones from vendors Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Dell.

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So, what are the key drivers for the ramp-up?
  • Catering to consumer tastes. Despite what Apple might tell you, not everyone wants an iPhone. Consumers looking for alternative features, such as a bigger screen, memory expansion, a more customizable UI, HDMI, etc., can find them among Android handsets.
  • Lower subsidy levels. Now that AT&T has lowered its monthly data plan rates, there is less revenue to offset the subsidy burden. Paying $200-$300 subsidy for an Android handset seems more attractive than Apple’s $400+ subsidy.
  • End of iPhone exclusivity? The Internet is always abuzz with rumors, and AT&T shifting its focus to other platforms is yet another sign that a Verizon Wireless iPhone is potentially in the works. The carrier may be strengthening its portfolio to offset potential losses once the exclusivity ends.
Regardless of AT&T’s underlying reasons, broadening the options available to consumers is a good thing for many of the involved parties. For example, shoppers get a wider selection of handsets and emerging vendors like Dell get exposure to a growing market. However, AT&T will need to be careful in managing the persistent issue of fragmentation. While developers and content providers will be happy to have a larger Android installed base for which to create applications and services, they will also be faced with the cost of addressing multiple models/processors/resolutions/etc. -Alex Spektor

July 16, 2010 21:07 Alex Spektor

Those following the “Antennagate” saga no doubt tuned in to reports from the press conference held by Apple earlier today.

clip_image002As Apple explained during the event, many other phones potentially suffer from a similar issue. Putting on my electrical engineering hat, I have to say I believe it – to an extent. A user’s hand (or ear or cheek) all impact the environment “seen” by the phone. Antenna engineers work carefully to direct signals away from such sources of interference. However, there should be no reason why the left-handed “deathgrip” scenario is unaccounted for.

The smartphone vendor announced that while its “18 PhDs and scientists” work on studying the problem further, Apple would issue free protective cases (of both the Apple-made “bumper” variety and the third-party kind) to all iPhone 4 buyers.

So, why all the negative press?

It appears that consumers and the media alike have a love-hate relationship with successful electronics firms. We love to use their products, but also love to find faults in them. (Google and Microsoft come to mind.) The antenna issue has put the first major dent in Apple’s armor since the original iPhone launched in 2007. To find a fault with a company this successful is a rare occasion, and it often makes for catchy headlines.

The iPhone still offers best-in-class usability for data services. However, the vendor will now need to fix the growing perception that its voice-call capability is sub-optimal. As Apple loses heartshare, it may not stop the die-hard fans from purchasing a device, but it may impact on-the-fence buyers. Given that Apple relies on essentially a single SKU, consumers holding off on making their buying decision can have a quick impact on volumes (without other SKUs to absorb the impact).

Unlike previous years, when Apple’s competition was lackluster, this summer brings compelling Android-powered alternatives from vendors like HTC, Samsung, and Motorola.

So far, we believe that the negative impact on marketshare has been negligible. After all, Apple has already shipped 3 million of the new handset since launch. Furthermore, according to Apple-provided stats, only 0.55% of iPhone 4 users have called to complain about the antenna problem.

However, while the figure is pretty low in percentage terms, it still comes out to about 17 thousand people. The sooner Apple can bring that number to zero (the vendor hopes that consumers will accept the free bumper solution) the sooner it can curb the loss of heartshare and the potential long-term impact on the iPhone’s otherwise gold-plated brand.

iPhone 4 Insight

Smartphone Sales by Country Forecast

-Alex Spektor


June 11, 2010 18:06 Alex Spektor
Bluetooth profile implementation in handsets is a pretty dry subject. But with Bluetooth capability available in six out of every ten handsets sold worldwide this year, the subject is an important one for product planners. clip_image002Even the savviest consumers likely only know to look for a few key profiles when buying a phone. A2DP is one that has received some attention, as it allow the delivery of stereo music to Bluetooth headphones or Bluetooth-capable vehicles. According to our latest forecast, A2DP support will be found in three-quarters of all Bluetooth phones sold this year. Another profile, AVRCP, was designed to allow Bluetooth devices to remotely control each other. The Bluetooth SIG’s example is an outdated scenario, where a PC controls a supposedly Bluetooth-capable VCR. However, where AVRCP really shines is as a companion to A2DP. A common usage scenario is in the vehicle, where a consumer can listen to music through the speakers (A2DP) and change tracks via the car’s controls (AVRCP). I can say from personal experience that at least one user was delighted to learn that he could advance tracks streaming to his BlackBerry’s Pandora client via the car’s steering wheel. The potential impact on stickiness is quite powerful when a handset feature can delight a user. PBAP is a profile that still has fairly low penetration around the globe (the highest is in Western Europe, by the way), but it will experience strong growth in the coming years. The profile allows the transfer of phonebook data to other devices (e.g., to an in-vehicle display). Carmakers, such as BMW, Ford, and Nissan, are increasingly supporting PBAP in their vehicles, and this trend should give long-term uplift to the profile’s penetration in handsets. Not all profile implementations were “created equal,” however, and simply having a profile does not necessarily mean that it will work as expected. Apple, for example, supports AVRCP on its iPhone, but it does not support audio track advancement, which is surprising for such a media-capable device. The inconsistency of implementation among vendors can be a disappointment and a point of frustration to users. The lack of consumer awareness of Bluetooth profiles and their benefits remains an issue for the technology, largely because of cryptic, unmarketable names. Perhaps key industry players could rally toward using more intuitive names (e.g., “In-Car Audio Control”) to help illustrate use cases and engage consumers. Ultimately, we expect handset vendors to prioritize the profiles that drive stickiness and can be directly associated with carrier ARPU. This can mean simply enabling in-vehicle calling with profiles like HFP or even, ultimately, helping to link the phone to a multi-platform connected device framework. Bluetooth Phone Sales by Profile -Alex Spektor

May 12, 2010 15:05 Alex Spektor
From a total handset volume perspective, not much has happened in a year in North America. Indeed, our findings show that the region’s growth during the first quarter of 2010 has been flat on a year-over-year basis. But, if we look closer, we can actually observe a lot of movement within, as smartphone specialists face off with traditional vendors. South Korean vendors Samsung and LG have carved out a nice spot at the top of the market, controlling nearly 50% of volumes last quarter. But, while Samsung continues chugging forward—the vendor surpassed 30% market share for the first time ever—LG should be concerned. After many quarters of strong growth, the vendor is now more than 4 percentage points below its peak market share. Without doubt, its essentially nonexistent smartphone portfolio is to blame here. image Astonishingly, Motorola has remained in the top four despite 12 consecutive quarters of annual declines. However, this time around, Motorola finally yielded the #3 spot to North American neighbor Research In Motion. Of course, Motorola’s Android portfolio is ramping up quickly, with all-time-high smartphone volumes. But, as the vendor continues to shed featurephones from its portfolio, we expect further reduction of volumes. Despite moving up in ranks, RIM has not been seeing stellar domestic performance either. In fact, while everyone around them has been moving up or down, RIM has been standing still. The vendor’s North American market share has been essentially flat for six consecutive quarters. RIM has been (quite successfully) focusing on expanding internationally, but that has come at the cost of stagnation at home. A significant portfolio refresh (more touch?) will be necessary to shake things up. Nokia once again traded places with Apple, losing the #5 spot in our rankings. But, actually, for Q2, my money is on Nokia retaking fifth place. Partly it’s because Apple’s shipments will see a lull in anticipation of the next-generation iPhone. But I also see a lot of potential for the Nokia’s Nuron phone on T-Mobile USA, which offers innovative (read: affordable) smartphone data pricing. In the long run, however, Apple is much better positioned for growth in America, having essentially defined the smartphone experience for the market. Q1 2010 North America Vendor Share -Alex Spektor

April 14, 2010 17:04 Alex Spektor

After months of industry-wide speculation about Microsoft’s “Project Pink,” the software giant recently unveiled two phones: Kin One and Kin Two. Manufactured by Sharp (the maker of most T-Mobile Sidekick phones, in partnership with Danger, whom Microsoft purchased in late 2008), the phones will ship with specs found on many of today’s smartphones: capacitive touchscreens, QWERTY, high-megapixel cameras, gigabytes of flash memory, Bluetooth, GPS, accelerometers – the list goes on. Yet, the Kins are not true smartphones, as there is no application support. Rather, the Kin family of products consists of cleverly targeted feature phones.

While the smartphone segment is growing steadily, the wireless industry is certainly not done with feature phones, which we expect to account for approximately two-thirds of handsets sold in North America this year. Earlier this year, AT&T announced intentions to give significant attention to the mid-range, messaging-centric feature phone category, which the operator calls Quick Messaging Devices (QMD).

At Verizon Wireless (who, along with Vodafone in Europe, will soon carry the Microsoft phones), the Kin will make an interesting replacement to aging handsets like LG’s enV series. In a way, the Kin family is part of VZW’s answer to AT&T’s QMD category. Expect VZW and Microsoft to back a heavy advertising campaign when the phones come out, promoting the novel user experience and social networking functions. With a low retail price and some innovation on data plan pricing (see the Nokia Nuron smartphone, which requires just US$10/month for unlimited data at T-Mobile USA), the two Kin models could drive strong volumes for the carrier.

 

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For Microsoft, who recently painted themselves into a high-end corner with hefty hardware requirements on Windows Phone 7, the Kin family represents an interesting platform framework to get closer to the youth segment.

The high-tier Windows Phone 7 will be a natural handset upgrade path for today’s Kin user, as both platforms are forming common elements. While the short-term goal with the Kin family is to expand the addressable market by bringing messaging/social networking services through a robust framework, the long term goal is to own the consumer by highlighting the Microsoft value proposition to him/her early on.

Either way, Kin provides an interesting glimpse into Microsoft’s understanding of the future handset market, where feature phones will rely heavily on the cloud. (Like its Sidekick predecessors, the Kins store user data and content on company servers.) Add to that Windows Live service and Zune content integration, and Microsoft can be seen as gradually ramping up its strength on the multi-screen index.

-Alex Spektor


March 10, 2010 05:03 Alex Spektor
No, I did not misplace my BlackBerry. This blog post is not about the “Find My iPhone” feature or any other innovations in device recovery. Rather, I would like to lament my disappointment with the general lack of true intelligence in so-called smartphones. Named so for their advanced (PC-like, Wikipedia suggests) capabilities, smartphones trump ordinary phones with their ability to tie in new services, run applications, and browse the real Web. But should being PC-like be the ultimate aspiration for handsets? After all, phones have a key advantage that not even the lightest of netbooks can have – phones are always with their users and, as such, they know a lot about them.
  • Using GPS and accelerometers, the phone can know where you are and whether you are moving.
  • With knowledge of your calendar, the phone can know if you are busy and whether it should interrupt you.
  • By monitoring your behavior, the phone can guess how you will behave next time a similar situation arises.
Privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this one, of course. But their fears can be assuaged with feature opt-in and with clear, published documentation of what data are stored and shared. Mobile context awareness is nothing new. Academics have been talking about it for over a decade. But, outside of downloadable (i.e., not truly integrated) apps and some barebones functionality (such as the “Automatic” ringtone profile on some WinMo phones, which goes to vibrate during scheduled meetings), there still is not a whole lot of context awareness in smartphones. Platforms like Android allow you arrange your widgets across multiple home screens. Powerful? Yes. You then have to flip through the home screens until you find the one with the right widgets. Smart? Not really. Why can’t your phone – knowing whether you are at work, on a train, or at home – give you the right home screen on its own? And switch wallpapers. And change the vibrate settings.

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This example only scratches the surface of the possibilities out there. Vendors looking to differentiate on open platforms such as Android or Symbian have a terrific opportunity in building a robust context-aware user experience. Tomorrow, this stuff will be table stakes. But today, we are still waiting for somebody to lead the way. Handsets are loaded with power: processors, sensors, round-the-clock connection to services. But where is the intelligence to tie all of this power together? Maybe we should call them powerphones until they start doing something smart. -Alex Spektor

February 11, 2010 15:02 Alex Spektor
…Continued from part 1 PC vendors should be worried. It will be impossible to recreate the iPhone’s success. Furthermore the engineering-centric technology and design resources they currently rely on for their legacy products put them at a distinct disadvantage in today’s smartphone market, which is largely driven by engaging user experiences and a complementary set of compelling applications and services. Still, the operator smartphone craze means there is still plenty of room for good devices. Specialists like Dell and Acer can succeed if they prioritize the following issues.image · User Experience – The importance of a top-notch user experience cannot be overemphasized. Be it stock Android with top-shelf hardware, highly customized Android with decent hardware, or something in-between, handsets that provide an engaging experience will eventually make their way into consumers’ hands. · Content and Services – Technology and design will get you noticed, but content and services will get you used by consumers. This is where PC vendors are weakest. They should be proactively forging relationships with content/service providers. Working directly with carriers on on-portal offerings should not be ruled out. In fact, as operators look to drive on-portal usage, PC maker’s willingness to play is a potential differentiator from traditional handset vendors. · Platform Selection – Small vendors should focus on winning platforms. Samsung, with a huge distribution network, strong R&D resources, deep pockets, and dozens of SKUs can afford to support multiple open platforms and develop their own. Inexperienced vendors do not have this luxury. Indeed, platform selection is at the core of the PC-smartphone vendor’s issues, as it dictates the user experience and services capability. The experiences of HP, Asus, Palm and Motorola have shown that Windows Mobile has not been driving vendor success in the consumer smartphone market. Like its European rival Symbian, WinMo failed to evolve to address consumer demands for touchscreen-driven, Web-oriented user experiences. WinMo 7 and Symbian^4 will address these issues, though handsets based on these platforms won’t hit en masse until 2011. If PC vendors want to see meaningful smartphone sales, they need to expand beyond their familiar relationship with Microsoft and consider Android as their primary alternative. Dell has recently re-focused on Android to have a better shot at being consumer-relevant in the broad global market. This focus is necessary to allow PC vendors to concentrate on building the resources and relationships for content and services that are so critical in the mobile world. -Alex Spektor