The global recession may have drastically slowed many forms of economic activity, but not the efforts of mobile device manufacturers to drive growth by design innovation. “It is quite remarkable to see mobile handset trends in play,” says ABI Research Vice President Jake Saunders. “Despite the recession, there are some really exciting developments taking place right now. Mobile handset innovation is not going to wait for the recession to abate.”

In the last quarter, 35 percent of new handsets registered with ABI Research’s Global Mobile Device Tracking Database (OD-DBHA) were smartphones, up from 6 percent just a year ago. While clamshell device form factors are still popular with the manufacturers (25 percent of new devices released), slider-type handsets (where a larger, hidden, keyboard is revealed) are seen as an exciting design opportunity within the manufacturers’ design labs (35 percent).

Although GSM-based handsets still rule the roost in terms of shipment volumes (713 million in 2008), handset manufacturers are substantially boosting the number of W-CDMA-capable handset models in their portfolios (85 percent versus 35 percent year-over-year). Manufacturers are doing their best to give end-users as much memory flexibility as possible. External memory ports have evolved from Mini to the Micro format and SD is a clear favorite (55 percent). GPS is increasingly becoming a ‘must have’ feature, not just for smartphones but also for other phone categories (35 percent versus 15 percent YoY). While users still have to watch their GPS usage, GPS no longer eats batteries.

Research practice director Kevin Burden adds, “While mobile operators are still struggling to find viable revenue models from mobile music downloads, handset manufacturers clearly see music playback as de rigueur. Eighty-five percent of handsets logged into our database had mp3 capabilities.” They are also determined to undermine the standalone digital camera market. Fifty percent of mobile handset models released in the current quarter include a 4 Megapixel (or higher) camera. The Sony-Ericsson Idou will even support a whopping 12 MP.

New handsets offering a wide variety of new capabilities are appearing all the time. ABI Research’s “Mobile Devices Tracking Database” provides up-to-the-minute information about new handsets, according to vendor, part number, air-interface(s) and features. It is a component of the firm’s Mobile Devices Research Service.