Can Apple Overtake RIM In 2010?


Is 2010 the real Year of the Smartphone? Some had applied that label to 2009 because of the booming demand for high-end devices despite an otherwise anemic mobile phone market.

But during the first quarter, smartphone growth continued to surge, with worldwide shipments up almost 57% from a year ago, according to new data from market research firm IDC. What's more, that increase easily outpaced the 38% growth from the fourth quarter, typically the strongest sales period for mobile devices.

Apple enjoyed the biggest share increase in the last year, going from a 10.9% to 16.1% slice of the market as it doubled shipments from the first quarter of 2009. Powered by sales of the iPhone 3G S, the company continues to close the gap while BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, which claimed a 19.4% share in Q1, down from 20.9% a year ago.

If the trends from 2009 were replicated this year, Apple could eclipse RIM as the No. 2 smartphone seller to Nokia by the end of 2010. With new iPhone 4G coming this summer, with new features like multi-tasking, video chat and application folders, that should certainly help propel Apple's device sales in the second half of 2010.

RIM is expected to answer the challenge with the launch of the BlackBerry 6, it's next-generation smartphone platform, in the third quarter. The race could come down to whether BlackBerry make inroads faster into the consumer market than the iPhone can into the BlackBerry's traditional base of business users. It looks like Apple has the edge there, especially with the long-awaited addition of multi-tasking in the iPhone 4.0 OS.

Despite gains in recent years by Apple and RIM, Nokia remains the world's top smartphone maker, accounting for 39.3% of shipments. That share is steady from a year earlier. Rounding out the top five were HTC, with a 4.8% share, and Motorola, at 4.2%.

After getting back in the smartphone game with the Droid and Cliq last year, Motorola is poised to launch 20 different models and ship more than a dozen Android phones in 2010. Taiwan-based manufacturer HTC has also used the Android platform to springboard into the top smartphone ranks with phones like the Hero, Incredible and MyTouch. It's hoping to top that list with the debut of the Evo, which Sprint is billing as America's first 4G phone, later this year.

IDC says smartphone demand should remain strong overall. "More consumers are aware of smartphones now due to positive referrals from friends and family and manufacturer's mass media campaigns," said Kevin Restivo, a senior analyst at IDC. "Coupled with increased confidence on the part of consumers, these factors will create a perfect storm of demand for suppliers this year."

But with the wild gyrations in the Dow yesterday and the plunge in the financial markets again today, you have to wonder if the fragile economic recovery isn't running into stormy weather that could affect consumers globally this year.

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