In addition to looks back at the last year, this is the traditional time for looks ahead at the year to come, and Seth Weintraub has an interesting one in Fortune’s “Fortune Tech” blog. Weintraub predicts that, due to falling prices and improving networks, 2011 is going to be the year the smartphone (particularly the Android smartphone) really takes off, bypassing traditional computers as the way the majority of the world’s population accesses the Internet.
In terms of price, Weintraub points to new and forthcoming chipsets from Broadcomm that should allow Android smartphones to retail for under $100, possibly even as low as $75. These prices could move many feature phone users over to smartphones.
Weintraub is mainly looking at the developing world, where the price of smartphones currently puts them out of reach of any but the elite, but he also points out that it could have implications for the US phone market, too.
Perhaps more importantly, at $100, many first-world shoppers will forgo the subsidized two year contracts and instead choose month to month plans. That price point takes the power away from the carriers. If T-Mobile is having a special and I can just take my AT&T phone over without being hit with early termination fees, the carriers are much more likely to compete for customers.
This would in turn put pressure on the carriers to drop data plan prices, which could bring substantial change to the mobile phone market.
The new Broadcomm chips could bring considerable market growth to Android devices, changing smartphones from an expensive dalliance to a reasonable budget purchase. As Weintraub notes, this could shove the iPhone back up to the standard Apple market position—high-end hardware for those willing to pay extra for the Apple aesthetic, while everyone else buys something cheaper that works just as well.
And of course the implications for e-books cannot be ignored either. If people in the third world read e-books on their feature phones for lack of anything better, how much broader will the audience for real e-book readers be when smartphones are more affordable to all?