Wi-Fi Now a Smartphone Must-Have

Though some operators are still not inclined to let Wi-Fi-equipped handsets into their networks, consumers nowadays are demanding the technology to be a standard part of smartphones, according to global consulting and advisory firm Ovum.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Ovum's recent data (collated from DeviceMine and Ovum research) identified 77 smartphone models released by key manufacturers in the sample period. Of these, 59 handsets had GPS (Global Positioning System) capability and 49 had Wi-Fi. This indicates that these technologies are now key features across nearly all smartphones, not just high-end models, said Tim Renowden, analyst at Ovum.

"Some operators still have a reluctance to admit Wi-Fi-equipped handsets onto their networks, but Ovum believes consumers now expect Wi-Fi to be present in smartphones," Renowden said.

The analyst said both GPS and Wi-Fi remain to be in demand, citing that the widespread availability of GPS (across all of the major smartphone platforms) is great news for developers wishing to deploy location-based applications and services. But still few developers have taken advantage of this beyond basic navigation products.

Next Expectation: TV-Out

Ovum's smartphone capability tracker showed much lower penetration for TV-out capability, although this was of little surprise as it is only recently that most platforms have really possessed the multimedia abilities required to justify its inclusion.

Only the iPhone, Symbian, and Windows Mobile platforms produced devices with TV-out, with Samsung in particular being proactive in supporting the feature. Ovum expects TV-out to grow in popularity among media-centric smartphones, along with increasing processing power and screen resolutions.

On the processor front, most smartphones are currently based on ARM11 architecture, but Ovum expects some ARM Cortex A8-based chipsets to appear in devices within the next update, and platforms like Qualcomm's Snapdragon or Nvidia's Tegra to emerge later in 2009 as manufacturers seek to add greater multimedia functionality to devices.

Devices based on the ARM Cortex A9 multi-core architecture are expected in 2010.

RIAs and Widget Frameworks

Widgets are another buzzword in the industry, but the tracker shows that only around 10% of smartphones support Internet widget frameworks. This is another area where we expect rapid growth in adoption through 2009/10.

Ovum has previously discussed the potential for rich Internet application (RIA) frameworks as application platforms in mobile handsets but the tracker shows how little impact RIAs have so far made on smartphones. Adobe's Flash and Flash Lite have achieved the best penetration with 41 smartphone models supporting Flash.

Renowden said Symbian dominates the RIA figure, wherein 25 are Symbian-based (all except one of the Symbian handsets released support Flash). Windows Mobile has patchy support for Flash (manufacturers even support it inconsistently across their Windows Mobile portfolios), and iPhone OS and Android currently do not support it at all.

Of the other RIA frameworks tracked (Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight), penetration is zero, indicating that usefulness of these platforms for application developers is still some way off.

App Store Changes

Renowden reported that Ovum expects a big change in the rise of on-device application stores when it comes to the next version of the smartphone tracker, as platform owners and manufacturers have now began to respond in earnest to the app store buzz.

He describes app stores to be "cooking unevenly."

"One of the biggest talking points in the industry in the last 12 months has been the rise of on-device application stores. Despite the limitless hype, for the sample period very few devices were released with pre-installed app store clients," he said. "Apple's iPhone, HTC's Android devices and several Nokia handsets (featuring Nokia's Download! client, not the newer Ovi Store) were the only devices with app stores pre-installed."

Renowden added on-device app stores have launched on BlackBerry and Palm's WebOS, Nokia now has Ovi Store, Windows Mobile 6.5 will feature an app store, and a greater proportion of new handsets will feature these clients in the next version of the tracker.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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