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Smartphones Still Immune to Economic Pressure

Smartphones
While the national economic slump and the banking failure are hurting corporate tech spending, they aren't dampening consumers' willingness to lay out big bucks for high-end smartphones.

A new survey released yesterday by ChangeWave Research found that nearly 12 percent of the consumers it polled plan to buy a particular brand of smartphone within the next 90 days -- the highest level the analyst firm has reported in three years of research.

The report said that among those polled, 34 percent intended to buy an Apple iPhone, 30 percent craved a BlackBerry and just 3 percent were eyeing a Palm device. Another 3 percent said they are considering a Nokia (NYSE: NOK) phone, while and 1 percent plan to buy a Motorola handset.

The data continues the string of reports suggesting that the market for high-end mobile phones -- which typically offer Net access, music, video and application features -- continues growing despite the economic climate. IDC reported similar findings in April, while Gartner saw continued strength in the market last month.

It also may be one less worry off the minds of handset makers and wireless carriers, who are struggling to contend with ever-increasing, cutthroat market competition thanks to a rash of new models, services and players in the field. At the same time, both carriers and phone manufacturers are rushing to meet booming demand from users for snazzier and more advanced mobile applications.

According to ChangeWave, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) remains in a comfortable lead in the overall smartphone market, though Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone has picked up enough momentum during the past month to knock Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) from second place.

RIM has been looking to expand its lead with a series of product launches expected to continue into fourth quarter, with the arrival of the newest BlackBerry, the Storm 9530. The device is viewed as the Canadian vendor's biggest attack yet on Apple's popular iPhone.

RIM will also push its BlackBerry Bold and its newly announced Pearl flip clamshell device, both announced in late summer, onto shelves within the next few weeks.

Apple, meanwhile, may face another challenge from the market's newest entrant. The recently unveiled T-Mobile G1 HTC handset, which has yet to ship and isn't noted in the ChangeWave study, is primarily viewed as an iPhone competitor, according to analysts.

Industry watchers have said the device, which features a touchscreen interface similar to the iPhone, could prove to be a game-changer due to its open source Android operating system and the brand strength of Android's chief backer, Google -- both of which may serve to woo developers to the platform.

T-Mobile Android G1
The T-Mobile G1
Source: T-Mobile
The G1's relatively low $179 price -- subsidized in part by T-Mobile, as is typical for U.S. carriers -- could further propel adoption, given that the iPhone still hovers in the $200 range with the signing of a contract with exclusive U.S. carrier AT&T.

Apple this week moved to shore up its developer support by dropping a widely criticized non-disclosure requirement -- an effort seen by some analysts as a reaction to the Android debut.

Increasingly, Nokia is seeking to contend with the iPhone and the G1 through an aggressive mobile entertainment strategy built on new, music-centric phones -- including its first touchscreen model, unveiled yesterday -- and a free, yearlong music subscription service that pundits see as a challenge to Apple's iTunes and similar services.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone
The Nokia 5800 XpressMusic phone
Source: Nokia
This week saw Nokia fleshing out that plan with the debut of the touchscreen 5800 XpressMusic, which features an enhanced Symbian S60 platform that's designed to appeal to developers and carriers seeking high-end applications.

The S60 update also dovetails into Nokia's efforts to better compete for developer attention and to reshape the mobile OS landscape.

Earlier this year, Nokia announced it would buy Symbian and open source the platform, a move aimed to stave off competition from rival platforms like Android.

Page 2: Hurdles for Motorola and Palm