By Stephanie Gwee
THE term mobile phone is a misnomer - far from just being gadgets that let you phone home, cellphones have morphed into computers that let us download music over the air, watch video clips and fire up the Web.
No wonder their popularity has sky-rocketed.
In 2008, the mobile phone market enjoyed double-digit growth globally, with consumers owning more than one handset.
However, the good times seem to have screeched to a halt as research firm IDC predicts that worldwide growth will hover around 7.1 per cent in 2008 before slipping into negative growth in 2009.
According to IDC, the economic crunch has affected consumers' desire to purchase new devices. Most users will choose to upgrade the diallers only when their service contracts expire.
However, IDC expects the demand for smartphones to grow 8.9 per cent worldwide in 2009.
'Smartphones remain a much sought-after option for many consumers,' says Ramon Llamas, senior analyst, Mobile Devices Technology and Trends.
'Users have come to realise what these devices can do beyond voice telephony. Take a look at how gaming, mapping, entertainment, news and social networking applications for converged mobile devices have taken off, allowing users to do much more than just make phone calls.'
Industry experts also note that it makes more dollar sense for consumers to invest in a do-all phone than buying individual music players and digital cameras.
So, more full-fledged multimedia phones will take centrestage in 2009.
In particular, expect camera phone makers to engage in a numbers game by churning out phones with 10-megapixel snappers.
As incomes shrink and wallets tighten, the demand for free mobile phone applications will also take off.
Case in point: Apple's App Store on iTunes is likely to see a rise in the number of free applications and games to meet the interests of iPod and iPhone users, while brands that churn out music phones will also wave free music downloads to attract users.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on 31 December 2009.