Atul Satija
May 20, 2011

OPINION: Smartphone battles in Asia

Atul Satija, VP and managing director for Asia-Pacific at InMobi, reckons Asia is poised to be the next battlefront in the smartphone war.

Atul Satija, VP and managing director for Asia-Pacific at InMobi.
Atul Satija, VP and managing director for Asia-Pacific at InMobi.

Apple and Google are drawing battle lines in the United States, setting the stage for a drawn-out operating system (OS) fight. Apple is counting on devices like the iPad 2 to bolster the iPhone and spread the use of its operating system, iOS, while Google’s open-source Android OS is available on a wider range of devices in many different versions. Microsoft is not standing idly by, as the latest iteration of its Windows Mobile OS is making its presence felt. These three major players are putting pressure on other OSes, and the smartphone war is truly in full swing.

At this point, it is worth considering the situation in Asia. Asia is a much more fragmented market with different countries at different levels of sophistication and technological advancement. Relative to the United States and Europe, Asia is generally lagging in areas such as smartphone uptake and 3G technology, with feature phones still popular in countries with lower per-capita incomes and less developed infrastructure. Yet it is Asian countries that are fuelling growing global demand. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), India and China alone added 300 million new mobile subscriptions in 2010, more than the total mobile subscribers in the United States.

InMobi’s advertising impression data reveals a very interesting situation in Asia. Smartphone penetration is spearheaded by the iPhone, which held 10.6 per cent of the market as of January 2011, making it the number one handset in Asia. Yet Asia remains a Nokia stronghold, like Africa, with the manufacturer's handsets taking up the remaining spots in the top ten. As smartphone penetration increases, Android and iPhone OS continue to quickly capture share (+4.8 per cent share points combined) of mobile ad inventory from the traditional strongholds of Nokia and Symbian OS (51.6 per cent combined share). iOS has an 10.9 per cent share in Asia compared to Android’s share at 5.2 per cent. As far as OSes go, Symbian and Nokia OS still dominate the region.

It’s only a matter of time, however – smartphones primarily drove Asian impression growth on the InMobi network, growing 69 per cent compared to advanced phones which grew by 27 per cent. Smartphones currently represent 23 per cent of the impressions in the region, and the ratio continues to grow. Android's share nearly quadrupled in 90 days, reflecting the multiple manufacturers, price points and its open nature. Android and iPhone OS continue to capture share, although Android has a slightly faster pace. This is reflected by the heightened smartphone gains (1,543 million impressions) between October 2010 and January 2011.

These figures make it clear that iOS and Android are gaining ground in Asia, but still have quite a way to go before they assert the same dominance that they do in other parts of the world. Where Asia is ahead of the rest of the world is in mobile screen mindshare. In Asia, the mobile phone screen is the primary screen for internet use, a fact which will drive Asia to innovate in the mobile space potentially ahead of the world’s most advanced media markets. Still, it looks like the smartphone battles have yet to be fought in Asia.

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