Mobile phone designers are simultaneously targeting low-end emerging markets and high-end niches for users with more income.
Global 2008 handset shipments will exceed 1.2 billion with the United States accounting for 180 million units, said Ramon Llamas, mobile technology research analyst with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. In 2007, those figures were 1.1 billion worldwide and 171 million in the U.S.
Some brand-name vendors, including Nokia Oyj, have experienced production part shortages, Llamas said. ``Having enough on hand sometimes might not be enough.''
A November report from iSuppli Corp. said Nokia had a global cell phone market share of 38.1 percent. Other majors rang in much lower. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. has 14.5 percent; Motorola Inc., 12.7 percent; Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, 8.8 percent; and LG Electronics Inc., 7.5 percent. Segundo, Calif.-based iSuppli tracks the electronics industry's value chain.
Designers are building more multimedia capability into small spaces.
Nokia's 6301, for instance, has a two-megapixel camera, MP3 player and FM radio. Samsung's Armani includes a three-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 2.0 capability and a haptic-feedback user interface, which provides mild vibration when a user touches screen icons. LG's Venus VX8800 slider has a two-megapixel camera, music player and dual front screens with the lower screen featuring touch input with vibration feedback.
Apple Inc.'s iPhone has a 3.5-inch diagonal widescreen multitouch continuous-glass display, but that means it is fragile and can break. ``Clear plastics is a reality'' for sensitive display and touch-screen applications, Llamas said.
Manufacturers also offer the same model in different colors, Llamas said. For example, a customer can choose from eight different colors for the BlackBerry Pearl 8100 smartphone from Research in Motion Ltd.
Decorator colors may reflect personality and generate attention to the individual, Llamas said, noting that faceplates and shells among previous color-altering designs did not catch broad market attention.
Price sensitivity is important in emerging markets including India, Africa, Latin America and China, although ``not everyone wants a simple phone,'' Llamas said. Some want high-end models in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Major vendors such as Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson are continuing to build manufacturing resources in those regions, Llamas said.
Analyst Eamon Hoey said Nokia's ``better product'' has led to its market domination.
In the rapidly growing African market, Nokia has a strong presence, said Hoey, senior partner with Hoey Associates Management Consultants Inc. in Toronto.
Cell phone penetration in Africa continues to increase especially for low-end models offering basic prepaid service and available for distribution through thousands of small shops, Hoey said.
Africa is showing major growth vs. mature markets such as those that are ``tapped out in Europe,'' Hoey said.
African mobile phone service provider Celtel International jumped 34.6 percent to 36.4 million subscribers in 15 African countries and seven Middle Eastern nations in the first nine months of 2007, and MTN Group Ltd. gained 33.6 percent to 54.2 million subscribers in 16 countries in Africa and five in the Middle East.
Another provider, Vodacom Group Pty Ltd., increased 22.6 percent to a total of 31.6 million subscribers in five African countries.
Hoey sees a possible downturn in growth in India unless the government releases more sound-wave spectrum for cell phone applications.
Design makes a difference. Certain models from Nokia, Samsung and LG ``appeal to youth and the high end in some markets,'' Hoey said. ``In China, a handset is a fashion item that may be an indication of stature within society.''