The market and demand for mobile devices, smartphones in particular, is exploding. In fact, it’s growing so fast that many marketers have been caught flat-footed – not knowing how or where to begin learning about marketing to mobile devices.

Today’s post is a contextual piece that provides a marketer’s overview of the state of the mobile market.  All of the statistics cited below were produced by the Nielsen Company.

Feature Phones vs. Smartphones

The mobile environment is compromised of two device classes – feature phones and smartphones. Feature phones run simple applications, such as phone service, text messaging, basic email and web access, and has little or no access to 3rd party applications.

Think of the mobile device you owned before your iPhone, BlackBerry, or Droid. Chances are it was a feature phone.

Smartphones are akin to hand-held computers. They house sophisticated operating systems that run complex applications, such as PC-like email and web access, games, video, music, and more. Perhaps the defining characteristic of smartphones is their ability to access and download 3rd party “apps” like those available in Apple’s App Store.

Smartphone

Feature phones are the dominate devices in the U.S. market, but that is changing. The Nielsen Company predicts that smartphones will overtake feature phones in the U.S. by the end of 2011.  Note that in Q2 2010, 25% of mobile phone subscribers owned smartphones, meaning this number will more than double in the next 1 ½ years!

Here are additional statistics that testify to the explosive growth anticipated in the smartphone market:

•  A ChangeWave Research survey reveals that nearly 20% of respondents plan on purchasing a smartphone in the next 90 days (June, 2010)

•  RBC Capital Markets reports that smartphones will exceed shipments of personal computers in 2011.

Smartphone Players in the U.S. Market

In the U.S., there are three primary smartphone players: Apple (iPhone), RIM (BlackBerry) and Google (Droid, Pulse, EVO, and others). The market share of these players  are displayed in the graph below.

Operating

While RIM’s BlackBerry owns the greatest share of the market, and Apple’s iPhone seems to command the most public attention, it’s Google’s Android OS that appears to be enjoying the fastest growth. Among new smartphone subscribers, 27% have selected Android-powered smartphones, compared to 23% for the iPhone. BlackBerry’s share of that market segment has been steadily declining.

Email is a Smartphone’s Most Popular Application

And what are smartphone subscribers using their devices for? Many things, including social networking, checking the news and weather, even to call other people! But the most popular application is email. The chart below shows that mobile subscribers are reading and sending email almost half the time they are on their mobile devices.

us-mobile-time-spent

Conclusion: while mobile email is still in its nascent phase, marketers need to start thinking seriously about their messaging to mobile devices…particularly smartphones.  The good news is that the evolution of design best practices for mobile email could directly intersect with those for PC-based emails.  iPhones, for example, render messages at 100% of the width of the display screen.

Real Magnet’s Tools for Mobile Email release, scheduled to launch the week of September 20th, will provide you with features and functionality to better target and optimize your message for mobile consumption.  Stay tuned to the Real Insights blog for more information on the release and attend our free webinars on September 21st and 28th!