The mobile industry will see a shift towards touch-screen devices such as the iPhone during 2009, and a growing digital divide will emerge between mature and developing markets, according to the latest predictions from mobile services specialist Critical Path.
Critical Path sees five top trends already developing: the emergence of the 'real' smartphone; the development of vertical ecosystems such as Nokia's Ovi; the digital divide; the re-emergence of location-based services; and the economic outlook.
Donald Dew, chief technology officer at Critical Path, explained that 2008 had seen devices such as Apple's iPhone, Google's G1 and RIM's BlackBerry Storm change expectations about the nature of smartphones.
"Apple, in particular, has changed the expectation that a smartphone will be ugly but feature-rich, to it being attractive and with smoothly integrated useful functions," he said.
This trend will continue as phones gain larger screens, and the lines begin to blur between business and personal use.
"Apple has really changed what it means to be connected to the internet, such that the iPhone dominates the web statistics for mobile use," said Dew. " Devices like it are more first-class citizens of the internet than the majority of other phones: you can see the real web, not a mobile version of it."
Smartphones will also represent a third of all handsets sold within three to five years, according to the predictions.
But there will be a growing digital divide, with the majority of mobile internet users represented by the developed world, while the enormous growth in markets such as Asia will continue to be driven by basic text and voice handsets.
Services will continue to be targeted at users of high-end devices, according to Dew, because they are the people actually accessing the web while mobile.
"The mobile internet as we know it now will be replaced by Web 3.0, which is just the normal web with optimisations to make the content look better on smaller screens," he said.
Another trend will be the growth of vertical ecosystems, influenced by the success of the iPhone and its tight integration with Apple's App Store and iTunes services. Dew expects to see Microsoft pursue this model, while Nokia will expand Ovi, and RIM will build out its own store.
Dew also predicted renewed interest in location-based services, now that many handsets have built-in GPS or can use the cellular network to pinpoint their location. But the real driver will be mash-ups, according to Dew.
"Mashing up your application with location data and overlapping adverts based on the location will become much more possible," he said.
The effects of the economic downturn are also bound to have an impact in 2009, causing businesses and consumers to cut back on spending. "No matter where you go things are getting tough, so next year will be a year of caution," said Dew.
This will lead to a slowdown in spending, with more emphasis on value and price competition.
"Nokia is likely to take a hit, and there will be shake-out in the value chains, and possibly consolidation among the handset makers," Dew added.
The 'big five' handset makers are likely to survive, but the market could see the emergence of a 'big eight' instead, as Apple, Google and RIM increase their share at the expense of the current dominant players, according to Dew.
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