05:18 PM

Design Changes May Help Cell Phone Makers

With the mobile market expected to see a decline, many manufacturers are looking to add GPS, music players, and full keyboards to spur interest.

Most industry watchers are expecting cell phone users to hold off buying a new handset while the economy falters, and the overall market is expected to decline by as much as 10%. But cell phone manufacturers may be looking to design their way out of the recession, according to new data from ABI Research.

According to ABI's wireless handset database, cell phone makers will look to new form factors to help spur interest. Cell phones increasingly are being used for more than voice communication, and ABI is noticing that trend affect the way handsets are modeled.

While the clamshell model is still popular, more than 35% of the new devices feature a slide-out keyboard. This is meant to take advantage of the explosive growth in text messaging, as well as the increased adoption of mobile e-mail. GPS is quickly becoming a must-have in smartphones and nonsmartphones, ABI said. Additionally, 85% of the handsets in the database have the ability to play music.

"It is quite remarkable to see mobile handset trends in play," ABI Research VP Jake Saunders said in a statement. "Despite the recession, there are some really exciting developments taking place right now. Mobile handset innovation is not going to wait for the recession to abate."

The smartphone market is still expected to grow despite the larger slump in the field. But manufacturers like Apple, Research In Motion, and HTC are quickly finding that most of the high-end devices have the same set of features like Wi-Fi, 3G, and GPS, and customers are focusing on things like physical design, and software.

Apple's iPhone is a leading example of how design and software can lead to a higher market share than technically superior competitors. Until the 3.0 software, the smartphone lacked many of the basic features that other devices had for years, but its attractive design and well-integrated App Store led to success with consumers.

HTC also has been able to rocket from being a relatively obscure player to the largest manufacturer of Windows Mobile smartphone thanks to the appealing design of its Touch line of handsets. The company recently acquired a design firm to help bolster the aesthetics of its handsets as well.

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