June 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

For 41% of consumers, their next mobile phone purchase will be a smartphone

And by 2013, 38% of all mobile phones in the U.S. will be PC-like, web-enabled smartphones, according to new research. This bodes well for m-commerce as smartphone users use the mobile web far more often than their conventional phone-owning counterparts.

41% of U.S. consumers who do not own smartphones are likely to make a smartphone their next mobile phone purchase, according to new research from Yankee Group Research Inc. This bodes well for m-commerce as consumers with PC-like smartphones use the mobile web far more often than their conventional phone-owning counterparts. And many smartphone users can download and use mobile apps, for which there is a market growing at a relentless pace.

The new Yankee Group report says the smartphone category is emerging as the most important competitive battleground in wireless today. By 2013, the report predicts, 38% of all mobile phones in use in the U.S. will be smartphones. The report also finds that the average U.S. consumer has had four mobile devices, which, Yankee Group says, increases his appetite for enhanced features and more sophisticated designs when he purchases a fifth device.

A smartphone is a mobile device that runs an operating system, as a personal computer does, and offers voice, text, Internet and PDA functionality. Higher-end smartphones also incorporate digital music players and can download and run software, dubbed mobile apps, that can perform myriad tasks. Apple’s App Store, for example, offers more than 35,000 mobile apps.

One major factor boosting the market for smartphones is increased supply through wireless carriers. The iPhone launched two years ago exclusively through wireless carrier AT&T; and was a smash hit; Apple Inc., which this month released the latest version of the smartphone, continues to sell millions every year. The iPhone juiced up demand for smartphones, and in response manufacturers began creating more smartphones and wireless carriers began offering more brands and models.

Earlier this month, for example, Palm Inc. launched the Palm Pre, the most direct competitor to the iPhone yet. Seeking to capitalize on the unceasing demand for iPhones, Palm and wireless carrier partner Sprint are going all-out to promote the Pre smartphone in a bid to become full-fledged rivals of Apple and AT&T.;

“The release of the Palm Pre spotlights the changes in the manufacturer-carrier dynamic,” says Chris Collins, Yankee Group senior analyst. “Sprint and Palm are two companies desperate for a blockbuster hit. And, as such, they are either the perfect-or worst possible-partners for one another. The fate of both companies relies on the success of their alliance around the Pre.”

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