On Monday Google Android brushed past Nokia's Symbian platform to become the world's biggest smartphone OS. Android grew an astonishing 615 per cent over the last 12 months, but what is equally important is smartphone platforms as a whole leapt 88.6 per cent and now account for nearly one in five handsets sold. We're facing a Smartphone new world order.
Let's put this in some perspective. Gartner reports 417 million mobile phones were sold in Q3 2010, a 35 per cent leap from Q3 2009. During the same periods smartphone sales leapt 96 per cent – almost 3x as much, in what is traditionally a quiet spell ahead of the Christmas rush. We await Q4 figures, but don't be surprised if one in three phones sold globally by the end of 2011 is a smartphone. An astonishing figure considering how dumbphones proliferate developing countries.
The obvious question is why? The simple answer is: because smartphone hardware is becoming increasingly cheap to make. The likes of the iPhone 4, HTC Desire HD and Galaxy S may dominate the tech press like Ferraris and Aston Martins dominate Top Gear, but the reality is budget smartphones are the real game changer. Last week ZTE overtook RIM to become the world's fourth largest mobile phone maker. The little known Chinese manufacturer saw sales grow 94 per cent year-on-year. Of the top three Nokia grew 4.9 per cent, Samsung grew 23.3 per cent and LG dropped one per cent. By contrast ZTE even topped Apple's impressive 89.2 per cent growth and it holds a larger share of the market than the Cupertino giant with 2.3 per cent verses 2.1 per cent.
ZTE did this by creating high quality smartphones for the masses. In August the ZTE Racer redefined what £100 pre-pay smartphone should be: 2.8in touchscreen, 3G, WiFi, aGPS, an accelerometer, digital compass and Android 2.1. Our review gave it 10 out of 10 for value. By January ZTE has moved the goalposts again. The ZTE Blade, sold exclusively by Orange in the UK as the San Francisco, kept the internals of the Racer, but slapped on a stunning 3.5in LCD (initially AMOLED before supplies dried out) capacitive display with jaw dropping 800 x 400 pixel resolution. The form factor was sleek, slim (just 11.8mm) and light (110g) and it sold for just £99 on pre-pay. Once again we gave it 10 out of 10 for value. In the week since our review it can now be purchased for £89.99.
Consequently the bigger question becomes not 'why would I want a smartphone?' but 'Why wouldn't I want a smartphone?' And this is just the beginning…