2008: The Year of Multimedia Handsets?

The iPhone upped the stakes in 2007, and analysts predict others will follow with multitasking gadgets offering Internet, e-mail, music, and more

With the glamorous promise of Google's Android and the glitz of Apple's iPhone, 2007 may seem like a hard year to beat in mobile terms -- but 2008 looks set to be a battleground year for mobile handsets.

With the splash created by the iPhone, analyst house MultiMedia Intelligence says the industry is witnessing the evolution of mobile handsets -- as they move from basic voice devices to multi-tooled, multimedia gadgets that are "application-centric" -- enabling web browsing, emailing, music playing and more.

And beyond this trend for smarter devices, which the analyst says dovetails neatly with mobile operators' need to increase average revenue per user, there's a movement towards openness too -- as heralded by Google's Android.

This is something operators are likely to greet with less enthusiasm, however.

Frank Dickson, chief research officer of MultiMedia Intelligence, said in a statement: "2008 will see a heightened battle for control of the platforms and business models. Companies like Nokia and Apple will pull at the operators, trying to capture data, content and application revenue for themselves.

"Open platforms like Android will drive the mobile network to open up like the internet. Meanwhile, mobile operators will try to maintain their position at the top of the mobile food chain as they struggle to maximise the returns on infrastructure investment and not be relegated to a mere bandwidth provider."

The top five mobile players control 82 per cent of the market but it is "far from stagnant and becoming less so", according to MultiMedia Intelligence. The onward march of data services is bringing new faces to the party and new business models to disrupt the old.

Video and multimedia are key weapons in the coming battle, according to the analyst, which added that feature-rich multimedia handsets are approaching 300 million units. The handset market as a whole comprises more than 1.1 billion devices.

Online video is also tipped to make it big this year as media and web companies cosy up and online advertising grabs a bigger slice of the advertising pie.

The analyst predicts US internet video advertising will rack up nearly $1.6bn in 2008.

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