Chinese handset makers will lead an onslaught on smartphone titans Samsung and Apple when the world's biggest mobile fair opens today in Barcelona.
Offering big-screen, slick, slim smartphones at lower prices, Chinese manufacturers Huawei, ZTE and Lenovo will leverage the Mobile World Congress to chip away at the mighty duopoly, analysts say.
The handset battle is part of a broader revolt against a handful of companies with a stranglehold on the booming industry's handsets, operating systems and microchips, they say. Apple, as usual, is steering clear of the February 25-28 congress that draws 1,500 exhibitors to this Mediterranean city in northeastern Spain, and Samsung is not expected to launch its next big offer, the Galaxy S4, until after the show.
That may leave the field clear for rivals to tout their ambitions for a slice of the smartphone market, which is set to grow to a record one billion handset shipments in 2013, according to a forecast by global consultancy Deloitte.
"I think we will see challengers trying to make a noise at the Mobile World Congress this year," said Ian Fogg, the senior mobile analyst at research house IHS.
New players face a daunting task, though.
Samsung and Apple accounted for more than half of all smartphone sales in the final quarter of last year - 29 per cent for Samsung and 22.1 per cent for Apple - according to research firm Strategy Analytics. Behind Samsung and Apple, however, Chinese firms held the third, fourth and fifth spots, with 5.3 per cent for Huawei, 4.7 per cent for ZTE, and 4.4 per cent for Lenovo.
Demand for smartphones in developing countries could give Chinese firms a bigger opening, said Magnus Rehle, senior partner at telecommunications management consultancy group Greenwich Consulting. "Hundreds of millions of Africans and Indians and Asians want to have a smartphone and … the blocking point has been the price," he said.
But now that Chinese firms were offering attractive smartphones at lower prices they were likely to be "quite successful" in grabbing the new market outside Europe and the United States, which was where the growth is, Rehle added.
An even mightier duopoly holds sway over the operating system software that makes the smartphones work.
Google's Android ran 69 per cent of all handsets sold last year and Apple's iOS 22 per cent, said a study by independent analytical house Canalys.
Yet they face challengers, too, including Mozilla's new open-sourced Firefox OS, backed by an array of mobile phone operators.
Microsoft's new Windows Mobile operating system is struggling, however. "The number of apps that is available is one thing that is blocking Windows from being successful," Rehle said.
"They have had problems and everybody is hoping this will change because the duopoly is maybe not good for the market."
Firefox could face similar difficulties, he predicted.
A battle has broken out, too, over the processor chips that run the smartphones, with Intel now offering new high-performance chips to break its way into smartphones.