With smartphone sales booming, the latest research shows Samsung and Apple leaving the rest of the pack standing. A trend that could leave Microsoft and BlackBerry in the wilderness, before they even launch their next-generation products.
Kings of the Hill
Every quarter, research firms like Forrester, Juniper and Gartner pour over industry sales figures and churn out the latest numbers. This time, Samsung looks to have pipped Apple in the sales stakes while Android marches on, rising inexorably to a massive level of (fragmented) OS dominance. Of course, throw tablets sales into the equation and it becomes a very different picture if you want a fan boy argument, but save that for the comments.
The interesting numbers from Gartner's latest report are a 44% rise in smartphone sales as buyers around the world move on from basic or feature phones. Between them iOS (33 million sales, 22% share) and Android (81 million sales, 56% share) dominate 78% of that landscape leaving everyone else miles behind. With a new Samsung Galaxy S III due in days and an iPhone 5 due later in the year, the space in mobile stores for anything considered a "lesser" device shrinks, along with brand recognition, mind share and so on.
Users and Losers
That's bad news for Microsoft and its Windows Phone 8 launch partners like Nokia, and probably even worse for BlackBerry, with its BB10 due for launch this year, who stand increasingly isolated in the market. With news pages and tech sites full of Apple stories every time one of its (or a partner's) executives sneezes a rumor, there is precious little space for them to build consumer and business hype.
For users, the news is even worse. While you might love your current device, whatever it may be, those at the wrong end of the sales charts will see OS upgrade support dropped or reduced, see fewer apps developed, see features borked to nudge you to upgrade. That's not a problem, if your phone is just for calls and email, but for anyone reliant on edgier apps or features, it could be a phone breaker, (what happens when Apple's fancy 3D mapping software changes, and if it is only for iPhone 4S or higher, like Siri?)
Next week, month or quarter, there will be a slightly different set of numbers with players jockeying for position and spinning the results to their favor. The Lumia 900 may well spark a resurgence for Nokia. But out in the real world, Samsung's wide range of smartphones and Apple's singular line-up are squashing everything else.
With recent Adobe research showing tablet Internet usage outstripping phones, you would have thought that the next battle would be in the tablet space. The early rounds have all gone to Apple, with every company who has come out to play since they defined the market (except Amazon's Kindle Fire) firmly socked out of the park.
Will Windows RT-powered tablets make much difference when they launch in the blizzard of Windows 8 hype? Perhaps that's where the naming difference will fall down as consumers demand a Windows 8 tablet, only to be faced with an oddball "RT" logo. Android device makers will be looking to another salvo of devices (cheap ones, presumably) to get into the game.
While smartphone development is plateauing and become a matter of smart metals, ceramics and design features, there is still plenty of room in the tablet market for innovation, let's hope someone can do something different, soon.