With full year sales results in, it might not be complete hype to call 2009 the Year of the Smartphone. (At least until that title is shifted to 2010). Sales of high-end mobile devices increased nearly 24% to 172.4 million units worldwide last year even as over mobile phone sales dipped 0.9%, according to Gartner Inc.
In the fourth quarter alone, smartphone sales surged 41% from the year-earlier period to 53.8 million devices, getting a seasonal bounce. Things aren't slowing down this year, with Google revealing at the Mobile World Congress that it's shipping 60,000 Android-based handsets a day and Microsoft launching is mobile comeback by unveiling its upgraded mobile OS, Windows Phone 7.
Embattled Nokia also announced plans to revive its declining fortunes in the smartphone world through an operating system created with Intel dubbed Meego.
Apple may not have been in Barcelona, but it had another blowout quarter to end 2009, selling 8.7 million iPhones--double the amount a year earlier--and profit up nearly 50%. Its share of the global smartphone market also nearly doubled last year, growing from 8.2% to 14.4%, according to Gartner.
Beyond the gaudy sales numbers, another way to look at the impact of the smartphone tsunami is through mobile media usage. NBC reported Tuesday that the 58.2 million page views of its Winter Olympics programming on the mobile Web and iPhone app through the first 11 days of coverage were up 68% from the entire 17-day total for the Beijing Games (34.7 million). That's in spite of a less than stellar mobile viewing experience.
An NBC spokesperson said about a quarter of the mobile audience came from smartphone users, compared to the estimated of 17% of U.S. mobile subscribers who own smartphones, according to Forrester Research.
Further, 29% of mobile users surveyed by NBC said they plan to access mobile Web content more frequently after the Olympics than they did before the Games, suggesting it could increase mobile Internet use more broadly. At the same time, the spread of smartphones should help drive growing audiences for mobile TV and other content throughout 2010.