iPhone 5 faces U.S. market share challenges, says analyst

In a saturated U.S. smartphone market, how much more market share can Apple's flagship phone grab from its weaker rivals?

CNET

The iPhone 5 may have a tough time winning more market share in the U.S., an NPD Group analyst believes.

Expected to launch tomorrow , the new iPhone is already being touted as a blockbuster product by many analysts. But in a blog post, NPD analyst Stephen Baker said he thinks the iPhone 5 faces a different and more challenging environment than the one encountered by the iPhone 4 or even 4S.

The U.S. smartphone market is increasingly saturated. A recent NPD report found that U.S. smartphone sales rose just 9 percent in the second quarter, with most of that growth coming from prepaid phones.

Apple and Samsung have already gobbled up most of those sales and the resulting market share. Combined, the two companies hold more than 50 percent of the smartphone market. Android and iOS have also trounced the other smartphone platforms, leaving the question of just where Apple can gain more market share.

"On the operating system side, iOS and Android have such dominant share that... growing faster than the market will increasingly require taking share from a much stronger competitor, as opposed to merely vanquishing those who are already falling by the wayside," Baker wrote.

Also, the iPhone 4S was able to win over many Verizon and Sprint subscribers who hadn't been able to grab the iPhone in the past. With the iPhone 5, Apple faces a smaller number of untapped customers in the U.S.

NPD Group

As Baker wrote:

None of this should of course be construed that Apple can't, or won't, have an extremely successful launch in the U.S. when the iPhone 5 comes to market. It merely points out that as the market matures the challenges of growing faster than the industry multiplies. Apple will have a highly successful launch, of that there can be no doubt, but the inevitability of easy market share gains in the U.S. is not quite so apparent this time around, as it has been in the past.

Baker's analysis seems spot-on in that there's only so much market share Apple can scoop up from RIM, Microsoft, and other weakened competitors. But what about Android?

Google's mobile OS holds dominance over iOS. Can that dominance be broken, or at least lessened, by the iPhone 5? Led by Samsung, Android has proven a tough competitor for Apple, gradually winning over more and more consumers with an array of new blockbuster devices.

But the iPhone 5 may finally catch up with many Android phones by offering 4G LTE and a larger display. These features are likely to convince many existing users to upgrade, especially those iPhone 4 owners coming off contract. And other new customers may also be swayed by the lure of an iPhone 5 brimming with features formerly found only on Android devices.

Apple's slew of lawsuits against Samsung, HTC, and other companies are also aimed at making life more difficult for Google and its Android partners.

If Apple can't coax any more market share out of its weaker rivals, it will certainly continue to step up its game against Samsung and other Android competitors, both on the technical and legal fronts.

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