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Handset makers poised to capitalise on US growth

06 апреля 2009

Despite claims of a weakening handset market, there remains an opportunity for many of the major players in the industry to gain share in the U.S.

The doomsday image that many critics painted hasn't come to fruition as a result of continued demand for high-end smartphones. That's particularly true in the U.S. as sales of high-end devices continue to be brisk. As a result, the industry continues to be upbeat despite a maturing market and global recession.

"The U.S. has been more resilient than expected," said Hugues de
la Vergne, an analyst at research firm Gartner."There are compelling reasons to upgrade."

In particular, many look to Samsung Electronics Ltd. and LG Electronics to continue their momentum in the U.S. Nokia Corp. could also see growth as it makes a more concerted effort to work with the U.S. carriers.

The most successful companies continue to be the smallest. Apple Inc., Research in Motion Ltd. and HTC Corp. are expected to dominate smartphone sales, while embattled Palm Inc. is poised for a comeback with its buzz-catching Pre.

The players will capitalize on consumers' continued appetite for devices with more capabilities. But they'll also take share from a vulnerable Motorola Inc. and Sony Ericsson, which recently fell out of the top five U.S. vendors as it continues its own slide.

North American handset unit sales grew 3.3% to 182.2 million. De la Vergne
said he expects sales to be flat to slightly down, a far cry from prior analyst calls for a steeper decline.

"I see a rough first half followed by a decent holiday season," he said. Global Powers

Samsung and LG have grown through flooding the market with phones for every category. Both companies have relied on devices with full keyboards to target the text messaging crowd, as well as introducing several touchscreen products.

"We're bring down those features to the mass market," said Omar Khan, head of strategy for Samsung's U.S. telecommunications unit.

The company was showing off its Omnia smartphone and Sprint Nextel Corp. talked up the version of Samsung's Instinct.

The broader strategy has been paying off as Samsung overtook Motorola late last year, according to Strategy Analytics. LG could leapfrog Motorola as well.

The company's presence was felt strongly at the CTIA Wireless trade show. Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president of product strategy and marketing for LG, seemed genuinely excited when talking about the company's lineup. He noted that phones considered on the top tier a year ago are now making their way as mid-tier phones, touting photo editing and social networking features. It too has been aggressive in offering devices in different tiers.

"We don't believe in one size fits all," he said.

Rabbani acknowledged, however, that LG is lacking on business class smartphones. Indeed, its smartphone portfolio is the weakest of the bunch.

But LG has committed to bringing out more smartphones later this year, including the Arena, which is available overseas but not in the U.S.

That should further help its market share, according to Ross Rubin, an analyst at product research firm NPD Group.

Nokia, meanwhile, has made a concerted effort to reach out to carriers, which could translate into more business in North America. The vendor, traditionally weak in this region, touted AT&T Inc.'s support of its E71x smartphone. The company is working to develop phones specifically for the U.S. market, rather than push its global devices.

Ian Laing, head of North American sales for Nokia, calls the E71x deal a "step along the path."

When Nokia builds a device in the U.S., it's a product "the carriers are committed to taking," which was different from past practices. Smartphone Makers Riding High

For the first time, every U.S. carrier has a flagship device made from a pure smartphone maker, an illustration of the importance of the segment.

RIM continues to make strides with its Blackberry portfolio, despite a few product missteps. The company hopes the App World application storefront will help its phones appeal to more consumers. The RIM booth at CTIA was constantly packed with oglers. Verizon Wireless considers RIM's touchscreen Storm as its marquee product.

Apple also continues to climb the handset vendor rankings, despite selling just the iPhone through AT&T, and will likely see sales jump again once the next version is introduced.

HTC has primarily committed to Microsoft Corp. and Windows Mobile, but T-Mobile USA positions its G1 Google Inc. phone as the standard bearer for its 3G network.

"We're in a unique position," said Jason MacKenzie, head of sales and marketing in the Americas for HTC."We expect to come out of our downturn better than our rivals."

Sprint and Palm are positioning the Palm Pre as a key to each companies' turnaround. Quiet Showing

Motorola had a relatively quiet showing, with few executives speaking to the press. It did unveil its Evoke phone, which is a cross between an iPhone and a Pre without the full keyboard.

The company plans to have phones using Google's Android platform on the market before the end of the year.

Rubin noted that Sony Ericsson also had a quiet presence at the show. Like Motorola, the vendor has been looking for ways to cut costs.

Источник: Total Telecom

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