Analyst after analyst, commenter after commenter, is saying that only one handset and mobile OS will survive the "Smartphone Wars."
After 12 years in the digital industry, seven of which I continually worked with some of the top mobile and mobile technology firms, I was convinced every year "that this year is the year of mobile." Well, here we finally are, and I wanted to add my firmly-held belief that much of this conversation is off-base. This smartphone vertical is not going to play out anywhere near the way the Personal Computer vertical played out. Why? Lessons learned, and too many demographic segments that have demands that one handset producer or operating system can cater too.
The conversation is fairly redundant: no single carrier, handset, or mobile OS will dominate in the same fashion Windows has for so many years. Multiple players will thrive and, based on each user's needs and opinions on what handset/OS/carrier serves their needs, they will make that choice. Every serious study (and being involved in this space heavily for years until the past eight months) leaves me 100% convinced there will be several strong players. Each has their own merits and, as the industry gains critical mass, the major players (survivors) will tailor their operating systems, handset design and carriers to cater to 4-6 primary demographics.
There is plenty of room for more than BlackBerry or iPhone or Android to survive. In my not so humble opinion, all the major hardware/operating system producers will thrive based on the synergistic lift smart phones are achieving, with mid-to-late 2010 being a real tipping point in smartphones (with the upcoming upgrades to hardware/chipsets) thriving, benefiting all the current (and any future) superior smartphone producers. Watch for Apple's (AAPL) next iPhone incarnation with a much more powerful chipset and further advancements to their already superior operating system, and I am watching Google's (GOOG) Android moves with great interest. And yes, Research in Motion's (RIMM) Blackberry will retain a very nice market share, as they do cater to a more serious business-orientated consumer; but that is not to say that Android, iPhone, Nokia (NOK), Palm (PALM) (although they have their work cut out for them) and others won't also have versions to challenge Blackberry's current hold on that demographic segment.
Bottom line: Too many analysts are holding on tight to the historical model of the Personal Computer wars, and this is an entirely different evolution. Just my two cents, for what it is worth.
I will be writing further on this subject over the next few weeks as we head into 2010, the "Year of the Smartphone," and the smart investor is doing some serious due dilligence, studying the different smartphone user demographics, and making bets based on those factors. As a side note, I have noticed many articles from analysts that strongly endorse one handset or mobile OS over another; smartphones (especially iPhones and Blackberry, with Android emerging) endear a very strong personal attachment to many users. It bodes your investment strategy well to put aside those personal passions (I am using both my beloved iPhone, a Blackberry and an Android handset, and I am quickly seeing how each device has very strong appeal to large demographics - large demographics that, in relative terms, are still low in terms of percentage of adoption, leaving each segment with incredible sales opportunities) and dive into the research in a dispassionate fashion.
Disclosure: No holdings in any companies mentioned in this article.