Smartphones projected to overtake feature phones in 2011

Smartphones, including the BlackBerry, Droid and iPhone, could overtake more common "feature" phones in popularity and penetration as early as 2011, according to a new Nielsen analysis.

Already, about 21 percent of wireless subscribers use smartphones to connect with their friends, send co-workers e-mail and browse the Web while on the go, according to the survey. However, that's nearly double the smartphone industry's penetration rate at the end of 2008, Nielsen points out.

Consequently, Nielsen researchers on Friday noted that current trends peg the third quarter of 2011 as the likely time when smartphones surpass feature phones as the most commonly used mobile device in the United States.

For the most part, Nielsen attributes the shift to a "groundswell" of new smartphone devices, an "explosion" in new applications for them and a significant decrease in the prices of those phones and carriers' data plans.

Smartphone users in the past six months have also seemed more loyal to both their mobile phone products and their carriers, according to the survey.