Mobile Market Overview, Q1 2010

1Executive Summary

Many of the themes from the first quarter of 2010 mimic those of previous quarters.  In mobile devices, Android continues to be a dominant news item with new device releases and emerging partnerships.  However, Apple also had an active quarter with the announcement of the iPad, a tablet computer that resembles a large-screen iPod touch.  While the iPad is not a revolutionarily different technology, it promises a revolutionarily different user experience in the consumption of mobile media.

Google also made news in the first quarter when it kicked off 2010 with the launch of its Android-based Nexus One. The Google-branded phone sold roughly 20,000 units in the first week (compared to 1.6 million iPhone 3G units and 250,000 Droids sold in their first week of sales). The phone was introduced for sale through Google’s own web store, an attempt to disrupt the traditional carrier-to-customer model of handset sales.

Google boldly took on China’s censorship laws in the first quarter in a move that may negatively affect its Android partners as they try to introduce devices in the massive market. Google also generated a great deal of “buzz” with the unveiling of Google Buzz, a social feature built into Gmail.  The service has a similar feel to other social media tools, but is unique in that it is inherently tied to e-mail — a quality Facebook and Twitter do not share.

In other mobile apps news, location-based services (LBS) and Voice over IP (VoIP) services continued to dominate the news, as in quarters past. Gowalla and Facebook continue to square off in the location-based arena and Yelp joined the fray in the first quarter, too, with the launch of check-in functionality for its iPhone app. Mobile VoIP has achieved steady growth over the past several years as economic pressures have encouraged traditional telephony users to switch to less expensive, Internet-based offerings. Skype, the leader in VoIP services, is building on this success through new partnerships, such as the relationship with Verizon announced in the first quarter.

As expected, mobile data traffic became an increasingly important issue during the quarter as well.  The FCC is attempting to ease congestion by freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum as part of the National Broadband Plan, but the strategy faces considerable challenges.  Carriers also continue to turn to Wi-Fi as a mobile offload alternative, continuing to fuel the hotspot resurgence.  Of course, 4G offers more mobile bandwidth and the network operators have reaffirmed their commitments to next-generation technologies in the first quarter.  The debate between LTE and WiMAX continues, however, in a twist on past discussion the cable operators are now factoring in on this debate.  While cable operators Comcast and Time Warner support Clearwire’s WiMAX service, Cox has begun trialing its own LTE network.

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