@ MWC: Meet One Of The ‘Others’ In The Smartphone Game

You know those numbers from Gartner that show how the biggest marketshare in mobile today, collectively, goes to a plethora of smaller players pushing ahead in developing markets? Today, I met one of them.

In the sea of exhibitors and visitors in Barcelona this week for Mobile World Congress were a school of small fry hoping to grow into big fish. One of them is called Shenzhen Simtech, a handset manufacturer that specialises in devices for market segments that are, in the words of its marketing director Robin Feng, “not popular” with other smartphone makers: children and the elderly (think big buttons, large display fonts and ruggedised edges, and users that look like the two people in the left side of this picture).

Simtech is one of the growing number of small handset makers that collectively provide a massive counterbalance against the biggest handset makers in the world, and are the fastest-growing. In Gartner’s mobile device rankings for 2010, the analysts note that the biggest market share in mobile devices today is occupied by “Others”, a fragmented group of players of different sizes that collectively make up 30.6 percent of the market, and saw the biggest rise in marketshare over the year before, growing by more than 16 percent, on total device sales of nearly 1.6 billion.

Simtech was founded in 2006 and, up to now, has made low-end and feature phone devices. It is now also moving into smartphones, with — what else? — an Android-based device scheduled to ship in May 2011, and others in the works, says Feng.

Last year, Simtech sold upwards of 2 million handsets. That works out to a tiny share of 2010 devices — only 0.13 percent. But it’s operating in markets that are still growing rapidly so it has an opportunity to get bigger, too: most of Simtech’s devices are sold under the Simdo brand, mainly in developing markets such as China, India and Russia, but it is starting to see some traction in Europe, too.

The company also makes devices on behalf of other brands such as Lenovo and ZTE. It has ambitions to do more in this area, and the smartphone boom, ironically, might help them along.

Basic devices still make up a majority of the handsets sold — only 18.8 percent of mobiles sold last year were smartphones, according to Gartner. Yet companies like Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Samsung and Nokia (NYSE: NOK), says Feng, are looking to outsource production of their low-end phones so that they can concentrate on their higher-value devices.

Can a player like Simtech leverage that trend and use Android to grow its share in low-cost smartphones, too, or will its lack of scale get it in the end? Watch this space.