Q3 in Mobile: Android, the iPad and the March Toward 4G

The third quarter of 2010 may not have been as eventful as the three preceding months in the mobile sector, but as I write in my quarterly wrap-up over at GigaOM Pro, the period saw the continuation of some important trends worth keeping an eye on in the coming months. Here’s a quick look back:

The battle between Apple and Google ramped up as Android simply exploded, eating into the U.S. market share of the iPhone as well as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS. While RIM maintained its lead in the U.S., its new Torch device — which sports BlackBerry 6.0 — received tepid reviews and isn’t likely to provide the boost the Canadian manufacturer needs amid stiffening competition.

Apple enjoyed a runaway success with its iPad, which blew past early expectations and tapped a market that simply didn’t exist just a few months ago. That success has fueled the development of dozens of tablets set to come to market over the next several months, but demand for those devices is still far from clear. We expect to see a few successful launches in the space in the near-term, particularly among devices that can beat the iPad’s price point. But the vast majority of new gadgets will fail to find any substantial audience.

Meanwhile, mobile ads went local with the emergence of Facebook Places and Google’s “hyperlocal” search ads. Traditional Internet companies are vying for a piece of a U.S. mobile local ad industry that BIA/Kelsey predicts will explode from $213 million in 2009 to $2.02 billion in 2014. The well-known players are also competing against a slew of smaller, more mobile-centric companies like WHERE, Geodelic Systems, Whrrl and Verve Wireless. We believe rapid growth in the space will provide ample opportunity for a wide range of players over the next two years (at the very least), enabling smaller outfits to gain traction before the market matures — and before their larger counterparts have a chance to dominate mobile.

Finally, the industry moved further toward the world of 4G in the third quarter, with Sprint’s aggressive build-out of its WiMAX network with partner Clearwire and MetroPCS’s launch of LTE service in Las Vegas. Verizon Wireless will join the LTE bandwagon later this year by lighting up 38 cities, and AT&T plans to flip the switch on its LTE service by mid-2011. Those faster networks will see more metered billing models for data as carriers follow AT&T’s footsteps and limit — or simply kill – all-you-can-eat plans. So those new networks, and the ways carriers try to monetize them, will have a tremendous impact on the industry in the coming months.

Read the full report here.

Image source: flickr user Yutaka Tsutano

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