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Top mobile players prepare to become 2012’s chip wrappers

Column Competition is about to get even tougher
Fri Jan 06 2012, 16:51
katecolumn

THE MOBILE MARKET is becoming even less predicable as top players from last year prepare to become the chip wrappers of 2012.

The top dog one year can easily become the bottom the next - it all depends on which one has made the best product.

In early 2010, Samsung was struggling due to a lack of a decent smartphone, yet its Galaxy range, first launched mid-2010, has changed its position entirely. So much so that the Korean firm expects to report record profits later this month, having sold 35 million smartphones during the fourth quarter of last year.

Also last year, RIM was putting pressure on smartphone makers such as LG as it placed in the top five for the first time. This is a far cry from where RIM is now, after a service outage last year tarnished the firm's reputation and its low cost Curve 8500 smartphone range failed to compete with more interesting offerings from rivals. Chavs allegedly using BBM to incite riots didn't exactly do much for RIM's reputation either.

And things couldn't be much worse for Nokia. Yesterday, rumours resurfaced that Microsoft plans to buy the Finnish phone firm's smartphone division and despite categorical denials from Nokia, it almost seems like a good idea to put the final nails in the struggling company's coffin.

Despite anticipation for Windows Phone 7, the latest Microsoft mobile operating system has still failed to take off. Nokia's first Windows Phone 7 handset, the Nokia Lumia 800, might have had a fancy launch with a 4D projection on a building, but that doesn't mean the phone has inspired consumers to buy back into the Nokia brand.

Was it really necessary for Nokia to partner with Microsoft in the first place? Probably not. It was said at the time that two turkeys don't make an eagle and as far as I can see, that's run true. Nokia had Android as an option and it also had the Meego powered N9, so maybe overlooking those to bet the company on new Microsoft software was its biggest error.

A lot of being successful is about creating a product that works across markets. Where Samsung succeeded at this with its Galaxy range, particularly the Galaxy S and S II, both Motorola and Nokia failed. Nokia didn't target the US market, an area where it could potentially have been strong, and instead chose to offer devices to emerging markets - a big error on its part.

Meanwhile, Motorola made smartphones that resonated with US users who do like a QWERTY keyboard even on a touchscreen phone. If you watch US TV and film from the last decade, the star's handset will usually be a Motorola. Now? It's an Iphone - an Iphone 4 if you are the serial killer Dexter. However, the Google buyout of Motorola will be one to watch this year.

But who could forget LG? The Korean company almost looked like it would climb into the top five phone makers with its social networking centric handsets like the Town, but the firm is now back near the bottom of the pile. Granted, its Optimus Range has had some success, and the Optimus 3D is a good phone, but 3D is still just a gimmick and certainly not enough to attract the masses.

Everyone should be watching the emerging Chinese manufacturers this year. Both ZTE and Huawei obviously have a lot of money to throw into marketing, and their devices are certainly gaining traction. Whether the two can grow that into mass success isn't sure, but they will certainly try.

Apple of course is an entirely different story. Who would have thought that by the end of last year, Android would have overtaken IOS to become the most popular mobile operating system? Apple needs to pull out an evolved design at its next Iphone launch, after the Iphone 4S proved to be not much more than an update of the Iphone 4 model.

And 2012 is as likely to be a year of change as 2011, with another mobile operating system possibly taking Android's place. Windows Phone 7 maybe? Maybe not, but with new mobile software choices emerging from players such as Canonical, the fight for market share is certainly about to get tougher. µ

 

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