Mobility in 2013: Sure Shots, Cliffhangers and Question Marks
Well, 2012 has been another tumultuous year in the mobility market, but more than anything else it has set the table for what should be a number of major developments in 2013. Along with Apple and Google, Samsung and Amazon have become major players in the mobile device market, and we expect the fates of some of the more “challenged” players like RIM and Nokia will become clear as the year unfolds. So, baseball fans, it’s time to fill out your scorecard and get ready for the game to begin.
Every story on mobility today has to start with Apple. Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, Apple has essentially rewritten the rule book for the mobile market and along the way reached the highest market cap of any company in history. However, 2012 was a rather “off-year” for the Cupertino crowd. Apple blew the doors off with the iPad in 2010 and the Siri personal assistant in 2011, but 2012 was a year of incremental improvements. Apple rolled out the slightly longer, slightly thinner iPhone 5, and we got the iPad 3 with the Retina display that is somewhat clearer than the earlier iPads. It also released the slightly improved iOS 6 that included the Passbook app that I still haven’t found any purpose for. The only “new” thing was the seven-inch iPad mini, but we already had bunches of seven-inch Android tablets and the seven-inch RIM PlayBook.
In the meantime, Apple is still maintaining two different operating systems with OS X and iOS, though the new Mountain Lion version (OS X 10.8) finally allows Apple laptops and desktops to exchange iMessenges with iOS devices. If you want to see a mess of unnecessary confusion, look at the displays for Apple’s iCal which repositions virtually every function in the OS X, iOS, and iCloud versions. Then there was the whole mess with Apple Maps app. If Apple is going to continue to justify a premium price, it’s going to have to continue to drive innovation. That means for 2013 Apple had better get its thinking cap back on.
Coming to grips with Google’s Android ecosystem is still about as organized as the process of getting through customs in a third-world country. As of December 3, there were still 11-versions of Android in circulation, and roughly 50 percent of the devices in use are stuck on Gingerbread (2.3). Honeycomb (3.0) was a non-starter as it only worked on tablets, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) has been a hit and now represents over a quarter of the devices in use, and Jelly Bean (4.1/4.2), released in July, has grabbed about six percent of the Android market. Of course, most Android devices do not allow users to update the OS, hence half the devices are stuck on the Gingerbread version that was released in 2010.
Android’s “open developer environment,” where every manufacturer can add their own proprietary functions, seems designed to make Apple look good. At least the versions since Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich have supported enterprise-essential functions like on device encryption and MDM support, but you’re not winning much enterprise affection when you change the name of the Android Market to “Google Play!”
The salvation for Android will more likely come from Samsung than from Google. Samsung is looking to deliver an Apple-like product experience on its very successful Galaxy line, with unique product features and some very clever advertising. It is also taking a stab at differentiating itself from Apple and attempting to defeat the impression that it’s just a cheap imitation of the iPhone. With programs like SAFE and SAFE2SWITCH, Samsung is also looking to create a BlackBerry-like secure enterprise environment. Samsung’s worldwide market share is now twice what Apple commands, but 2013 needs to be a year where they start building the type of customer loyalty that only Apple has been able to do.
Speaking of BlackBerry, clearly this is a critical year. The company has bet the house, the farm, the tractor, and all of the livestock on the long overdue BB10 operating system, which is due out at the end of January. Believe it or not, there are still business people out there who prize the BlackBerry experience and particularly the BlackBerry keyboard – there just aren’t enough of them. I can think of no possible scenario by which BlackBerry might become a factor in the consumer market again, and given the relative size of the consumer versus the enterprise market, that means there is no way that BlackBerry will ever return to its former glory – unless the world goes on some amazing “nostalgia binge.”
BlackBerry’s best hope is that BB10 doesn’t fall flat on its face (like the BlackBerry Storm), and it can hold onto its remaining base. When your bragging points start with your commanding market position in Indonesia, South Africa, and Venezuela, you know it’s getting tough to find that “glimmer of sunshine.” In the meantime, the biggest story coming out of RIM’s most recent losing quarter was the threat that the company may have to cut the service fees it charges carriers, which account for 36 percent of its revenues. That disclosure had CEO Thorsten Heins on CNBC the next day claiming RIM's "service revenue isn't going away." I’m beginning to think that Thor’s favorite English language phase is, “What I really meant to say was…” Clearly, 2013 is “do or die” for BlackBerry.
The Microsoft-Nokia team is in similarly dire straits, and they don’t have Mark Knopfler on lead guitar. Microsoft has also put out some great ads for Windows Phone, but consumer uptake is languishing. Compounding that is the touch, no-touch, touch OS troika of Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, and Windows RT. Fortunately I’m a Mac user so I can just listen to other people complain about it, but Microsoft has an even tougher job on its hands than Apple when it comes to blending the mobile and desktop experiences.
Nokia is in the toughest spot because CEO Stephen Elop made the monumental decision to drop Nokia’s own failing Symbian operating system, pass on Android, and go all-in with Windows Phone. However, as of a few months ago, Nokia was still selling more Symbian devices than Windows Phone devices. Over the years, Nokia’s bread and butter has not been smartphones, but low-end phones that are the mainstay in developing markets. Unfortunately, you now have manufacturers like HTC, Huawei, and ZTE going after those same customers so Nokia has to win at the high end of the market.
Windows Phone is not life or death for Microsoft, but it is for Nokia. Even if Nokia folds, Windows Phone still has potential outlets with Samsung (though it seems to be placing its big bet on Android) and HTC. With stiffer competition at the low end of the market and poor results at the high end, 2013 could be a tough year for Nokia and a “last year” for Mr. Elop.
Lastly, what about mobile UC? I’m afraid 2013 will be a replay of 2012 (and 2011, 2010, 2009, …). That means, nothing happens. The UC vendors will continue to march out mobile clients and users will continue to ignore them. I’d like to see someone have at least marginal success in making their mobile offering something more than a “keynote demo” at Enterprise Connect, but I haven’t seen anything that would make me think the situation is going to change. I’d love to be proven wrong on that, so come on guys, surprise me.
Happy New Year, and here we go again.