NYT: Asia poised to transform global smartphone market

NYT has the excellent special report below, Asia Poised to Transform Global Smartphone Market. Much on the focus is understandably on China, given its population and economic significance in the region, however there are some trends relevant to Thailand and the Southeast Asian region. Overall the piece ties together some interesting trends, niches and arguments across Asia – a continent in which mobile industries vary from region to region.

Judging from the hullabaloo this month over the latest iPhone, one might think the center of the world for so-called smartphones is at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. In fact, it may be somewhere closer to Beijing.

China is already the world’s largest market for cellular phones, with an estimated 700 million people using them, more than double the population of the United States. Now Asia, and China in particular, is poised to transform the market for smartphones, those devices that combine cellular phones with e-mail, Web surfing, and myriad other applications that rely on high-speed wireless connections to the Internet.

 The sheer scale and potential of China’s mobile industry is incredible as blogged here.

China and its neighbors have been slower in rolling out the networks necessary to make smartphones, well, smart. Now that those systems are up and running, though, smartphones are taking off, and manufacturers are jumping in to cater to what analysts and industry executives predict will rapidly become the biggest market for the devices.

We’re convinced we have to be a leader in China,” said Bin Shen, head of mobile devices and device product management in China and South Korea at Motorola. “China is going to lead global growth in smartphone adoption.”

That has heavy implications for an industry whose product design cycle has traditionally moved in a westerly direction from the affluent United States to emerging Asia. Smartphones are still new enough that Asia’s dominance as a marketplace could reverse that, with phones designed for Asian consumers finding their way eventually to the West.

Even sooner, the battle for market share in Asia could trim the profit margins that have made smartphones such a feast for the likes of Apple, Nokia and Research In Motion, or RIM, maker of the BlackBerry.

Sales of smartphones globally grew almost 50 percent in the first three months of this year, according to the research firm Gartner. Profit margins at Apple and RIM, meanwhile, are still more than 40 percent.

 This explains the continued push from the likes of RIM (see here), HTC, Samsung, Nokia and others enjoying significant market presence across the region.

Read the rest of this post here.