Demand for GPS-enabled mobile phones will slow in 2009 but will avoid the fall in shipments expected to affect handsets generally.

At least that’s what ABI Research is predicting. It forecasts that feature-rich smartphones will post year-to-year unit growth through the current economic downturn.

For 2009 that translates into a climb in shipments GPS-enabled phones to 240 million units, an increase of 6.4 per cent over 2008.

This contrasts with a drop of 4—5 per cent for global handset shipments generally in 2009, according to a study by the researchers.

For the period through to 2014, the analysts suggest demand for smartphones will increase at an average annual unit shipment rate of 19 per cent.

ABI says this "surprising performance" will be driven by the ongoing demand for feature-rich smartphones, including the Apple iPhone 3G, RIM’s BlackBerry devices and Nokia N series phones among a growing list.

During the period, the report says GPS chipsets will continue to penetrate this segment; nine of every ten smartphones will contain GPS ICs in 2014, compared with one in three in 2008.

George Perros, senior analyst with ABI Research, said that falling component prices and increasing consumer awareness of handset locationcapabilities will keep demand for GPS-enabled phones healthy, in spite of the slumping global economic picture.

Other factors that will continue the trend toward the inclusion of GPS functionality in handsets include the spread of open source operating systems such as Google’s Android.

It provides application specific interfaces (APIs) that allow software developers to create location-based content for mobile devices.
The report also highlights the continuing emergence of navigation and map-based applications for handsets.

"As the quality of positioning technology in handsets improves and the cost of including it declines, GPS location technology will approach the status of a standard device feature," said Perros.

"We are approaching the point where location awareness will be synonymous with smart devices, a point where personal navigation, social spatial knowledge, and location-specific contextual information will be assumed handset capabilities."

If accurate, the report’s predictions will certainly be welcomed by smartphone manufacturers.

We’d be interested in hearing your view on the figures.

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