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Touch-screen handsets lead switch to smartphones

Ian Grant

Smartphones with touch-screens accounted for 55% of all smartphone shipments in Q4 2009, according to market analyst Canalys.

Touch-screen smartphone shipments were up 138% year-on-year in Q4 to almost 30 million units, in a quarter where overall smartphone market growth was 41%. Canalys estimated total touch-screen smartphone shipments for the year at over 75 million, more than double the 2008 figure. Total smartphone shipments in 2009 hit a new peak of 166 million units.

It was no surprise to see Apple at the top of the table of leading vendors of touch-screen smartphones, said Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd, "But Nokia is a very close second, with tremendous growth thanks to models such as the Nokia 5800 and N97. Nokia was actually the leading vendor by volume of touch-screen smartphones in the final quarter of the year," he said

HTC and Samsung took the third and fourth spots, though Samsung also shipped a lot of touch-screen mobile phones that are not smartphones.

Canalys research among 4,000 consumers late last year showed that 60% wanted a touch-screen interface on their next mobile phone. Some existing users said they would switch back to a different interface, but Canalys expected the overall shift toward touch-screens to continue during 2010.

User interface (UI) design and the input technology were factors in attracting customers to particular devices, but it was also key to enabling users to discover, acquire and use new applications and services, Shepherd said.

Apple's App Store's vast, easy-to-access library of content and applications will continue to drive sales of the iPhone and other devices such as the iPad, said Canalys vice-president and principal analyst Chris Jones.

"As more platforms and application stores enter the market, developer bandwidth is as big an issue for this industry as network bandwidth. If you get it right, you have a much more effective lock-in when the user comes to replace their device. Success now is not just about building new revenue streams," he said.

Symbian was by far the largest smartphone OS by shipment volume in 2009, increasing in absolute terms despite losing share to the much faster growing Research in Motion (BlackBerry), Apple and Android.

A large user base familiar with a platform and increasingly comfortable using it for more advanced activities, such as buying content and applications, will make Symbian more attractive for developers, creating a virtuous circle, he said. The most loyal handset users owned Apple, Nokia and RIM.

Senior analyst Pete Cunningham said smartphones demanded a higher time investment by users. "If you have customised your device and set it up so that you can use your preferred e-mail and social networking clients, navigation solution and other apps and content, then moving to a different platform becomes more inconvenient," he said.

New phones were also more capable. Canalys estimated that the proportion of smartphones with Wi-Fi rose to 84% in Q4, while 83% had integrated GPS and 43% featured integral keyboards, all new records.


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