Mobile Analyst Sounds Off On Smartphones
The iPhone has bred not only a host of competing high-end phones--most recently the BlackBerry Storm--but has also helped to encourage use of the mobile Web and mobile media. But while lower-priced handsets and data plans are bringing multimedia devices to the masses and new revenue streams to wireless companies, a stalling economy threatens to short-circuit the momentum.
Online Media Daily: So there were actually lines outside Verizon Wireless stores last week for the Storm--in freezing temperatures. Does the long-awaited BlackBerry device give the iPhone a run for its money?
Greengart: The Storm is being seen as the closest thing to an iPhone for people who prefer Verizon Wireless over AT&T, for those whose employers will only support BlackBerry products for security or management reasons, and for BlackBerry fanatics, and they're out there--it isn't dubbed a "Crack Berry" for nothing.
OMD: Should all new smartphones be compared to the iPhone?
Greengart: Sure, why not?
Seriously, the iPhone has redefined what smartphones look like, what a phone user interface can look like, how tightly the device can be integrated with services, and how applications can be delivered to the device. It is still the best device for mobile Web browsing. Apple has backed it with an innovative tutorial-style ad campaign that has benefited the entire industry, and consumers have bought over 10 million of them. Plus, it makes phone calls!
In short, you don't need to be an Apple fan boy to compare new smartphones to the iPhone. You don't have to--and probably shouldn't--copy the iPhone, but if you're building a smartphone in today's market and ignore the iPhone completely, you're an idiot.
OMD: The iPhone has given a boost to mobile Web browsing. Will new devices continue to drive mobile media?
Mobile browsing is a key use case for all smartphones. Other forms of mobile media--music, streaming video, long-form video, TV, etc.--have had varying amounts of success depending on the device and geography.
OMD: What significant smartphone launches should we look for in 2009?
Greengart: Three struggling companies are planning big smartphone launches that could make or break them: Motorola (Android), Palm (a new mobile Linux platform), and Kyocera Sanyo (Android again). The market leader--that would be Nokia, not Apple or Research in Motion--is expected to launch a whole line of N series touchscreens.
Samsung and LG have promised new smartphones with a bigger emphasis on user interface innovation. Microsoft will be launching Windows Mobile 7. And Apple will launch its third-generation iPhone, which I'm expecting will be the first smartphone that crosses that elusive usability barrier and actually makes you a sandwich.
OMD: Sounds tasty. Will this new generation of more affordable smartphones (e.g., iPhone, Storm, T-Mobile G1, Samsung Instinct) help handset makers and carriers make it through the downturn?
Greengart: If tough times continue, there will be a lot of purchase consolidation. In other words, people who are willing to spend money during the downturn won't necessarily spend less on handsets, but won't be willing to risk buying an unpopular handset--especially because buying a handset is really buying a mobile computing platform that will change over time with software.
Instead, the winners will win, and there just won't be any room for also-rans, which will face sharply declining sales. Of course, today's lower prices are almost a prerequisite for consumer consideration; pricing a phone above $199 after rebates in today's market is a recipe for disaster when there are strong products like the iPhone, Storm and G1, at or below that level.