Research In Motion and Microsoft are making radical bets on mobile strategy in 2012, which could adjust a landscape dominated by Apple and Google.
Although 2011 proved to be a dynamic year
in mobility, in broad strokes it certainly hewed to the expectations of many
analysts. Google Android continued to gain market share, as predicted, while
Apple's iPhone remained a potent force in both the consumer and business
realms. Microsoft's Windows Phone struggled to gain users, and Research In
Motion did its best to beat back rivals.
The coming year will almost
certainly prove to be far more
unpredictable, if only because the pressure of Android and iOS is driving other competitors to take
RIM faced declining revenue throughout most of 2011, with
executives acknowledging headwinds due to an aging BlackBerry device line.
Those numbers led to analyst pessimism and even a well-publicized call from
Canadian merchant bank (and RIM shareholder) Jaguar Financial for an executive
The company is betting that its upcoming "superphones," loaded
with a "BBX" operating system based on the same QNX OS that powers RIM's
PlayBook tablet, will help reverse its fortunes. However, the exact timetable
for the BBX devices' release is unclear.
The numbers don't help the
company's problems. RIM held 18.9 percent of the U.S. smartphone market for the
three-month period ending in September 2011, down from 23.5 percent for the period ending in June, according
to research firm comScore. That's in
contrast to Google Android and Apple, which gained 4.6 points and 0.8 points,
respectively, to claim 44.8 percent and 27.4 percent of the market. If RIM's
"superphones" prove to be a hit in 2012, it could stop or even reverse that
slide, but if those new devices fail to seize customer imaginations, that could
translate into significant danger for RIM.
One company could benefit
from softness in RIM's position: Microsoft, which in recent weeks has renewed
its Windows Phone push. In the wake of the platform's broad-based "Mango"
update, with hundreds of tweaks and fixes to the operating system, Microsoft
and its hardware partners plan on issuing a series of upgraded Windows Phone
devices in the coming months.
On a global scale, Microsoft
also hopes its deep partnership with Nokia will radically boost adoption of
Windows Phone, which until now has struggled for adoption. comScore estimated
the combined market share for Windows Phone and its antiquated predecessor,
Windows Mobile, to be 5.6 percent through the end of September 2011-down from
5.8 percent in the preceding three-month period.
Microsoft's ascension as the third-ranked mobile player in 2012
is by no means guaranteed, analysts say.
"In the U.S. the stores seem awash in Android phones, and the
iPhone continues to be the most desired," Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the
Enderle Group, told eWEEK. "Nokia is stronger in Europe, and things may
be going better there. Microsoft will likely have to rethink how they are
funding this. They can ill afford another market failure, but it is my
impression they are massively underfunding this effort."
Apple and Google, of course, will continue to battle it out for
the largest pieces of the pie over the next four quarters. Apple is expected to
release an "iPhone 5" sometime next year, possibly with a design that's
radically different from that of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Google Android
will also proliferate, but the competition from Apple and constant legal
challenges from Microsoft could affect manufacturers' strategies.
What's certain is that the
mobility landscape in 2012 will look substantially different from today's,
especially if the bets by RIM and Microsoft either pay off or end in failure.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.