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Sun 21 Mar 2004 04:00 AM

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Defining mobile devices

Mobile device shipments more than doubled in the Middle East and Africa market during 2003. As the market develops, the blurring of distinctions between PDAs and mobile phones is becoming a reality.

Mobile device shipments more than doubled in the Middle East and Africa market during 2003, with the full year figure hitting 495,000 compared to just 229,000 in 2002. A bevy of vendors is tackling this fast-growing market from a wide array of technical perspectives in the Middle East.

The market data, compiled by UK-based channel analysis group Canalys, illustrates the increasing convergence between voice and data vendors in this market segment. With mobile phones becoming PDAs, and PDAs themselves morphing into mobile phones, imposing strict definitions on sub-categories in this arena is a must.

Canalys has split the mobile device market into four sub-segments. First up is the feature phone, defined by Canalys as, “A pocket-sized device positioned primarily for voice, offering full, configurable two-way PC data synchronisation, but OS-based applications cannot be added without restriction”. The second category, smart phone, carries the same definition as feature phone with the exception that OS-based applications can be added without restriction. Handheld is defined as a, “Pocket-sized device positioned primarily for data, no integrated wireless (GSM, GPRS or 3G) capability”. The wireless handheld category is for data-focused devices that do have GSM, GPRS or 3G capabilities.

Smart phones zoomed ahead of both feature phones and handhelds during 2003 to become the dominant device category in the region accounting for 61.5% of all shipments. According to Canalys figures, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and HP all outperformed the overall market growth rate during 2003, reducing the marketshare of Palm and other vendors in the mobile device market. In total, HP shipped 36,000 mobile devices in the Middle East and Africa during 2003 — up from just 12,000 in 2002. Palm boosted its shipments 32.7% during 2003 to 52,000 units.

In such an emerging market, looking at the overall marketshare remains a more revealing statistic than pure percentage growth rates. New vendors entering the market should post stellar percentage growth rates during the first couple of years in a market segment. Symbian remained the dominant operating systems for mobile devices accounting for almost three quarters of the mobile devices shipped. The current vendor standings could change considerably during 2004. Dell sold 5,000 mobile devices in MEA from a standing start. Looking ahead, the dominance of the smart phone category will spur the data-focused device vendors to further explore building voice functionality into their products.

Much depends on the development of routes-to-market in this emerging sector. The large IT vendors are well placed to take advantage of corporate deployments that equip employees with devices able to access corporate applications while on the road or roaming around internal facilities. It is an area where vendors such as HP can benefit from its ability — and its channels ability — to specify the device as part of a wider wireless solution for customers. What remains unclear is whether or not one device will ever truly fulfil an individual’s entire needs? This issue comes down to a question of usability with devices often constructed in a way that makes them more appropriate to the demands of a voice or data user.

The blurring of the distinctions in the mobile device market will be exacerbated as high-speed wireless internet access services such as GPRS and 3G become mainstream. Then it becomes a decision for the end user whether they can get away with carrying just one device. At present, it is not uncommon for ‘power’ users to lug around a business mobile phone, personal mobile phone, corporate wireless device and a PDA simultaneously. Pulling all these needs into one device that offers unparalleled functionality is a quest for vendors in this sector. Alternatively, they can focus on best-of-breed functionality for each area of use if they believe the bulging pockets of the mobile device addict are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

What’s the future for the mobile device sector and which vendors are best placed for long-term success? How many mobile devices do you carry? All feedback is most welcome. E-mail your views and opinions to Channel Middle East.

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