With an entire department dedicated to IT Consulting for the small to medium businesses space, we are often asked about the future and impact of smart phones. The Mobile world is changing, and fast. If you remember the big boom for computers in the 90's then be prepared for something similar to happen in the Mobile world as phones are becoming powerful enough to replace desktops and laptops for many tasks. But this time around the major technology companies aren't guessing on what strategies will work, they've learned from their past mistakes. So what’s going to happen and who will be the next major tech players in this upcoming generation?
Nobody can be certain on who is going to dominate the mobile world, for the longest time it seemed like Apple was the only company with a real plan, but as 2011 is starting to gear up, all the major mobile companies are showing that they are ready to compete. If we were to look at the current landscape I would say there a few names to look out for; Microsoft with Windows Mobile 7, Google with Android, Apple with iOS, HP with palm's WebOS and finally RIM with Blackberry OS. There is one more, Nokia, but they are a currently going through major structural changes, switching from their own Symbian OS to Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7 so for now we won't consider them. All these companies are hoping to become THE mobile OS provider, just as Microsoft was THE desktop OS with Windows. At this point it is good to look at each and see where they are going and how this is can affect the future.
Apple is well established and has been for at least 4 years now, they have the largest App marketplace and the second largest smart phone market share, losing it to Android only a few months ago. There plan seems pretty simple, they are going to release a new iPad in the spring, with a faster processor and a few feature upgrades, during summer these upgrades will make it to the iPhone and come fall the features will finally transition to the iPod touch. As apple makes the device in house, you can expect a newer dual core ARM cpu ranging somewhere in-between 1 - 1.5 ghz.
Google has been taking the market by storm by allowing anyone to use Android as they please. This has helped them create a large market share and has created a lot of interest with developers making their App market quite extensive. Google's niche market has been low end smart phones, a place Apple hates to compete, while this has helped push their phones it makes it difficult to develop for as the phones could be running at any speed with any size screen. Google is trying to standardize this and with new faster parts coming out, phone makers are rushing to try and create the latest super phone in hopes to be the first iPhone killer. Expect a wave of new super smart phones from people like Motorola and HTC many of which will be dual core. You can also expect the most unique phones out here to run android as Google has very few rules on how the phone should be built, this allows people like Sony to make devices like the PlayStation phone.
Windows 7 mobile has been off to a rocky start, with Microsoft still looking for ways to really differentiate their phone and generate interest from manufacturers to use their OS and then from users to actually buy it. With Android being free and WM7 costing phone developers $30 for each phone built it has been a tough sell. Android and iOS also have many more apps so WM7 is playing catch up with developers. WM7 so far has been positioned as a phone with a simpler interface to connect to social media, with its other selling points being its connection to Xbox for mobile gaming and possibility of MS office coming in the future. Expect similar hardware upgrades as Android for speed, but with the extra cost and Microsoft’s strict rules on features, don't expect anything amazing until they figure out a good strategy. Their only saving grace is Microsoft has the money to invest in this and continue support even if it becomes a flop.
HP's WebOS was acquired during their purchase of Palm, and HP is coming out the gate swinging with a refreshed Pre and their new phone the Veer. Palm has been an innovator for years, and would be now except they ran into funding problems. Last time around they released phones that were outdated and they don't want to make the same mistake twice. While they don't have the developer support like Android or the iPhone, they do have a unique innovative interface which could turn the tables if pushed correctly.
Our Final contender is RIM with Blackberry. Blackberry was the phone for business people, but a few years of not creating new innovative ideas has made them one of the smaller mobile companies. They too are expecting to make a comeback after failing to do well with the Torch, which suffered from the same problem as Palm, great new interface using last generation parts. While it is hard to know if RIM will become successful, they are at least considering ways to generate interest, they currently have a very small App market and are considering using android apps are their way of making the phone more appealing which is a catch 22. Do you want to have control of the app market, but have very few apps offered to people or do you want to lose control but gain access to all of androids Apps.
Smart phones are still an emerging market and at this point is almost anybodies game, while most people don't want to pick the "wrong" phone you just have to remember they all have similar functions and chances are you are going to replace your phone in a year anyways so there is no real wrong type to pick. As for general predictions, Android will continue to increase in market share; Apple will continue to slowly gain more customers as people migrate over to them with Verizon; Microsoft will continue to struggle as they try to gain a footing, HP is betting heavily on the success of WebOS so except a huge push from them; Blackberry is at the end of the rope, so look for them to try and push themselves into the business market again with better office integration.