Handset Mania: Too Many Smartphones?

It’s almost impossible for me to keep up with the blizzard of handset announcements coming out. That makes me think that mainstream consumers will become quite confused: HTC or LG? WinMo or Android? What about proprietary OEM software (e.g., MotoBLUR) or carrier apps? Smartphones (and “quick messaging” phones) are proliferating and getting better, but paradoxically many consumers will find making choices harder. (“The paradox of choice” and all that.)

As a practical matter price will always be a big driver of consumer behavior. But all things being equal pricewise, it’s getting more challenging to make choices. And the constant parade of new handsets also creates uncertainty and desire for the newest gadget. For example, I’m ready to ditch my Pre for an HTC Hero. 

In the “branded” category there’s the iPhone of course, which stands out for multiple reasons. Then there’s BlackBerry, which many people are wedded to because of their jobs (see the NYTimes on the “Storm 2 do-over“). There’s also the Palm Pre and forthcoming Pixi from Palm. Outside the US Nokia has a very strong brand and reputation. But after that comes the “drop-off.”

Android: which one should I buy, Samsung, Motorola, Dell, Acer or HTC? Windows Mobile: buy now or wait for WinMo 7? In my limited time with a 6.5 HTC handset yesterday I found it better than 6.1 but otherwise challenging to use.

Tech consulting firm Gartner has projected that Android will be the number two smarpthone OS (after Symbian) by 2012. By contrast, iSuppli has a very bullish view of Windows Mobile’s prospects

Stepping back, the Yankee Group recently found (consistent with our data) that about 43% of consumers are intending to buy a smartphone as their next handset. In-Stat says that 33% plan to buy a smartphone when they next upgrade. Smartphone adoption is driven by multiple factors but falling prices of handsets and data plans also will boost adoption. Price sensitive consumers may opt for the “mid-size” quick-messaging phones as a compromise between feature phones that offer limited functionality and smartphones. 

Opus smartphones

The market is getting more competitive but all the competition will also result in substantial consumer confusion. One might predict that will benefit the iPhone and possbily RIM. But how it will precisely play out is uncertain.