Nexus One challenges iPhone, but market's more than big enough for two

Google's Nexus One, Apple's iPhone, and Blackberry are three huge fish in the smart-phone sea. But there might be room for even more than those three.

Robert Galbraith/AFP/Pool/Newscom
Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, Andy Rubin, vice president of engineering for Google, and Mario Quieroz, vice president of product management for Google attend a question and answer period after the unveiling of the Nexus One smartphone in Mountain View, Calif. on Tuesday. While the Nexus One will take a shot at the iPhone, a growing market may accommodate both.

Google's Nexus One has plenty of bells and whistles to make iPhone and Blackberry users sit up and take notice.

But far from being an epic confrontation for dominance of the smart-phone (or "superphone," in Google's new parlance) universe, 2010 may instead be the year of uneasy coexistence, as an explosive market allows all three platforms to prosper going forward.

"There’s plenty of room for everybody to grow in this space, and there’s a lot of diversity in opinion here," says Ken Dulaney, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner. Here are the stats to back that prediction up.

By 2012, Gartner predicts that American smart-phone sales will reach 525 million, making up half of all cellphones sold, ample space for multiple brands to thrive.

That doesn't mean there won't be some near-term friction.

In the next three months, 20 percent of Americans plan to buy an iPhone. A surging 17 percent aim to purchase an Android product, according to a December report from comScore, a technology research firm. While the iPhone's numbers have remained largely stable, Google's Droid has exploded onto the scene since its introduction a few months ago.

A similar survey conducted in December by ChangeWave Research notes that while roughly 25 percent of consumers are looking to buy an iPhone in the next 90 days, that's down from over 30 percent in September. Android phones, on the other hand, went from about 5 percent to over 20 percent.

Google's new Nexus One may enhance those numbers, since it runs on the Android system but offers more features than the Droid.

In fact, Google's entry into the mobile-phone market may do more to hurt retailers than mobile-phone competitors. It's Google's online retail presence, not the Nexus One, that will have the most disruptive impact.

"This is throwing down the gauntlet to Amazon," Mr. Dulaney says. "It potentially does threaten people like RadioShack, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart. What Dell did with PCs, this could do for phones."

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