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Smartphones continue to surge

Seventeen percent of mobile phone subscribers now have smartphones, up from 11 percent at the end of 2008, Forrester says.

Was 2009 the year of the smartphone? Or will it be 2010? Either way, a new Forrester report confirmed a surge in smartphone ownership last year and expects more growth and more competition this year.

Around 17 percent of mobile phone subscribers now own smartphones, up from 11 percent at the end of 2008 and 7 percent at the end of 2007. Those numbers are even more impressive than they sound, Forrester said Monday, because new technologies typically enjoy a growth spurt in their first year and then trail off in subsequent years. Smartphones are doing the reverse.

In 2009, Research In Motion's BlackBerry was still king of the smartphone castle, at least in terms of market share. Though the iPhone may get all the buzz, Forrester points out that RIM kept up its two-to-one advantage over Apple throughout the year. The sustained popularity of the BlackBerry may stem from its price, availability from a range of carriers, and its full QWERTY keyboard, Forrester said.

To clarify which devices Forrester is discussing here, the market researcher pegs a smartphone as a mobile phone or connected handheld device running a high-level operating system, such as iPhone OS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, PalmOS, WebOS, Symbian, or any Linux variant, including Android.

Forrester also looked at quick messaging devices such as the LG Xenon and Samsung Magnet. Sometimes lumped in with smartphones, quick messaging devices typically sport a keyboard, a touchscreen, or both, but they run proprietary software instead of a standard smartphone OS. Fifteen percent of adult subscribers owned one at the end of 2009, versus 9 percent in 2008.

Though acknowledging that 2009 was a banner year for smartphones--an opinion shared by CNET--Forrester believes 2010 will truly be the year for this device.

As more carriers hit the market with Google Android devices, both handset maker Nokia and mobile OS maker Microsoft will need to beef up their products to keep their customers happy. Of course, rumors also abound about the Apple iPhone jumping ship from AT&T to another provider, such as Verizon Wireless. Google is also set to unveil its own smartphone on Tuesday.