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The smartphone market has moved from occupying a niche within the wider handset market to a significant chunk of it.

Smartphones are, suddenly, ‘lifestyle’ devices, conspicuous in the mass market.

Mobile phones with slide-out and fold-out QWERTY keypads were, until recently, considered business phones for serious looking men in suits.

Then, everybody got in on the act; briefcases and handbags were properly emptied of old paper diaries and contact books and suddenly bling-looking handsets were proclaiming to replicate the confines of the office, or home work space.

The likes of Canadian manufacturer RIM, which made its name in the parochial corporate market with its seminal BlackBerry range, is now looking to grab a share of the consumer market.

They have devices that, in terms of data speeds and applications, supersede their forerunners for the business market; the new pink 8120 BlackBerry Pearl packs in sundry multimedia applications and fast links to social networking sites such as Facebook.

Other manufacturers, including Western market debutants and established consumer giants, have trickled into RIM’s current.

The brands and ranges have multiplied as the smartphone current has met the flow of the mass market.

Nokia would argue it has been number one in the smartphone market since inception, simply because it counts any device equipped with a Series 60 platform supporting Java code as ‘smart’ – which, in recent times, has included most devices it punts to networks on mid-range tariffs, regardless of business credentials.

Really, Nokia produced the first creditable smartphone, the Nokia 9000 Communicator, released in 1996.

Other Communicator models followed, and other makers such as Palm entered the fray.

But the BlackBerry range launched at a point of inflection for the business phone market and won an addicted following, to the extent it drew the moniker ‘CrackBerry’.

But the big five manufacturers, especially Nokia, have turned up the heat in the past few years, and RIM’s apparent supremacy has been somewhat eroded.

It ensured longevity by establishing its server software in IT departments, but Microsoft has since taken a swipe at a market it expected to inherit through the proliferation of its Windows operating system in the PC, and now mobile market.

Full story in Mobile News issue 418 (July 14, 2008).

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