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2005 Wrap Up. 2006 Predictions. (Part 2)

29th December 2005

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  HTC HTC

2005 was the best year ever for smartphone manufacturer HTC, selling a wide variety of Windows-based devices that are sold under a huge range of brand names including i-mate and Qtek, and also rebadged under the network's own name (such as the HTC Universal branded as the O2 XDA Exec).

HTC are completely dominant in this market sector, and although there are a number of other manufacturers making Windows smartphones, none of them appears to have the market clout of HTC. In addition, there's not a huge amount of competition to HTC in the high end PDA-style smartphone market.

The danger for HTC during 2006 is this - hardly anybody knows who they are. Despite some considerable success in their market segment they are still unknown as a brand because all their products are rebadged. There's already some evidence that networks are shopping around more for their Windows devices. Despite that, we expect HTC to remain the most significant player in Windows-based handsets during 2006, although we feel that it is just possible that they may become the target of a takeover bid by another manufacturer.

 Sagem Sagem

By the end of 2004, things were looking great for Sagem with some sexy looking handsets coming into their range. However, Sagem appeared to run out of steam at the point where they merged with fellow French company Snecma to create the Safran Group. Post merger, there have been pitifully few new handsets announced, although they have partnered with Vodafone to create the dull but competent myV8-5 plus the Vodafone Simply Range.

Sagem badly need to find their form again during 2006 if they want to to realise their full potential, although judging from the effects of the new merged company, we doubt that they will manage to be anything other than a small player.

 Sharp Sharp

Sharp have been mainly concentrating on 3G phones during 2006, including the Sharp 903 with a 3.2 megapixel camera. Although at the end of 2004 Sharp were the clear class leader in the 3G market, other companies have started to catch up in terms of specifications, and Sharp no longer leads the pack.

Last year we said to expect the GX40 during 2005, but it never happened. However, the GX40 has been spotted recently and it should be with us during 2006, but from what we understand of the specification, it really is 12 months out of date.

However, we expect to see some more class leading 3G phones from Sharp during 2006, with the bulk of the new handsets being released exclusively on the Vodafone network.

 LG LG

LG have said that they intend to be seen as an innovator during 2006, a marked shift from being a producer of dull but practical handsets as they are at the moment (think of all those endless U-series 3G phones).

To this end we've seen the widescreen LG U8550 and the smart LG P7200 which have shown promise. Unfortunately, they also produced the LG S5200 which we regard as a poor quality attempt at the Samsung D500. Despite this, there seems to be some good potential for LG to come up with some interesting products during 2006, but we doubt that they can match the innovation shown by the likes of Nokia and Sony Ericsson. Our prediction is that LG will make some progress during 2006, but not much.

 VK Mobile VK Mobile

Until this year, VK Mobile were pretty much unknown outside of the Far East, but during 2005 they have pushed aggressively into other markets, primarily by selling ultra-compact fashion handsets, such as the VK2000 and a range of clamshells marketed through Vodafone.

We think that VK has the right combination of technology and styling to make a big impact during 2006, especially if their new European marketing team gets things right.

Other winners..

New kid on the block Emblaze Mobile looks interesting, originally an Israeli company but now with a significant UK presence. At the moment, Emblaze is concentrating on the lower to mid-end of the market. Will it succeed in a blaze of glory or be shot down in flames? It's hard to tell, but Emblaze are one to watch.

Grundig Mobile is the new name for Spanish manufacturer Vitelcom - we looked at the Grundig M240 and didn't like it much, but their product range is pretty diverse and has some attractive handsets in it. It might be that networks will take the Grudig handsets and rebrand them (as O2 did with the M240), but we expect to see much more of this manufacturer during 2006.

..and losers.

Panasonic is pulling out of selling GSM handsets, Philips is pulling out of Europe. Sendo went bust. Alcatel is actually producing some interesting handsets, but there's very little interest in them.. so it's probably only a matter of time before they pull out of the market (although we said that last year too).

NEC and Sanyo failed to live up to their promise during 2005. Haier never made its big push into Europe despite our predicitions that it would, nor did Mitac.

Other ones to watch

HP failed to make much of an inroad into the smartphone market during 2005 either, but since standalone PDAs are a declining market, success in this market is vital. The same goes for Palm, who are pitching for an increased market share with the Windows-based Treo 700w. BlackBerry manufacturer RIM is still slogging it out in the US courts over an alleged patent violation, a case which is full of twists and turns - we expect this to be resolved in the next few months.

So.. what's next?

2006 will see phones with Hard Disks for internal storage, but we believe this will be a short-lived thing as memory card capacities continue to improve. We expect to see 4 megapixel phones by the end of 2006. We also think that 2006 will be the year that 3G phone releases will outstrip GSM handsets, at least for the big manufacturers. Music phones will continue to be popular, althouth we can expect to see much more emphasis on over-the-air downloads via 3G and other high-speed networks. 2006 will also see the beginnings of DVB-H TV transmissions for devices such as the Nokia N92 although it won't be until 2007 that we really know if DVB-H is a commercial success.

Linux will make slow inroads into the smartphone market, although Symbian and Windows Mobile will still dominate. Expect to see some moves to counter the dominance of Windows in very high-end smartphones too.

Screen resolutions will continue to go up in 2006, but expect to see a great drive towards high-density displays (such as the Nokia 770's) rather than just bigger screens. QVGA (240x320 pixel) resolution displays will be pretty much the standard on everything other than low-cost phones by the end of 2006, in our opinion.

However, 2005 was full of surprises, so expect some more in 2006. And remember to subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news on new releases

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