Analyst: Over 100 new handsets, including 3G, on tap for Q4

The economy might be rocky, but one analyst says mobile device makers will still be releasing a total of over 100 new cell phone models in the second half of 2008 alone -- and about three-quarters of those will be 3G network-capable.

Vendors such as Nokia, HTC, RIM, Samsung, Motorola, LG, and Palm have been prepping the phones for the back-to-school and December holiday seasons, said Matt Thornton, an analyst at Avian Securities, in an interview with BetaNews this afternoon.

"The background for that isn't as healthy as it's been," the analyst acknowledged. But while the current "tough economic patch" is a definite hindrance, especially in developed nations, Thornton foresees further growth of the mobile device market throughout the year.

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Also this week, Gartner Group released its own report foreseeing continued market growth through 2008, despite a perceived slowdown in mature markets. According to Gartner, worldwide mobile phone sales rose 12% during the second quarter of this year, from April through June, on a year-over-year basis.

"But actually, I found Gartner's numbers to be a bit low for the second quarter," Thornton said, also pointing to manufacturers' statistics he's received that are more in the 16% ballpark for the entire year.

The third quarter of this year has already seen the launches of Apple's iPhone 3G, RIM's BlackBerry Bold, and Palm's Treo Pro and 800w.

In an Avian Research report, Thornton predicts that HTC's Dream -- a touch QWERTY slider device that will likely run Google's Android platform -- will ship as expected in the fourth quarter.

A few of the other phones now on track for the last quarter of the year include RIM's Thunder, Kickstart, and Javelin devices; Sony-Ericsson's Xperia; Nokia's 5800 Tube, 7510 Supernovia, N79, and N85; Samsung's KC910; and Motorola's Alexander, Atila, and Ischia devices.

Among all of these mobile vendors, Motorola is the most challenged right now, according to Thornton. "It's be a tough battle for Motorola. They're coming from behind, and they don't have much of a presence in emerging markets. But they've gotten new leadership, and they're re-setting their strategy," he told BetaNews.

Beyond the often mentioned introduction of mobile phones into emerging markets, Thornton pointed to another factor he sees as fueling growth.

Specifically, as North American mobile networks become more 3G-capable, many users are now transitioning from voice-only phones to devices capable of giving robust support for both data and voice.

"Northern Europe's already been at 3G and above for a while now," the analyst observed. "The average consumer doesn't even know or care about 3G." Later, he conceded that many consumers have heard about 3G through Apple's iPhone 3G ad campaigns. "But 3G isn't making any huge difference in their decision to buy," he contended.

What consumers do care about, he believes, is the ability to combine voice calling with Internet-based offerings such as e-mail and Web browsing -- and this functionality is now becoming much easier to deploy in the US and Canada due to the capabilities of current phones and networks.

Also according to Avian's report, some 35 of the mobile phones planned for release in the second half of the year will step beyond 3G enablement into the arena of "converged devices," including phones built on platforms such as Windows Mobile.

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