Smartphone Market Success or Failure: 10 Critical Factors

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2011-02-16

Smartphone Market Success or Failure: 10 Critical Factors

Apple's iPhone has been a downright blockbuster hit since its release in 2007. But it has also been flanked by several other devices-including the Motorola Droid X, the HTC Evo 4G and RIM's many BlackBerry models-that have enjoyed similar success over the past couple years.

At the same time, there have been countless products released that have failed miserably. In one way or another, the devices didn't live up to consumer or enterprise desire, and they sat on store shelves. Exactly what caused those failures isn't always easy to pinpoint. But there is undoubtedly a formula nowadays that helps determine the success or failure of a smartphone.

Read on to find out the 10 factors that help determine a smartphone's chances of success in today's rapidly changing mobile landscape.

1. Hardware design

If the iPhone has taught the mobile market anything, it's that hardware design means everything. If a device lacks a compelling design, consumers won't pay any attention to it. Hardware design changed rapidly after Apple started selling the iPhone. Almost immediately, more large-screen, slim devices hit store shelves. Along the way, those companies that failed to offer compelling designs were left behind.

2. The operating system

Consumers and enterprise customers want to know that the operating system they will be using is reliable. That's precisely why iOS and Android continue to be some of the top picks for customers around the world. And it's also why RIM's BlackBerry operating system is tops in the enterprise. Vendors need to keep in mind that the operating system is what users will interact with most. If a smartphone is running an outdated OS or the software just doesn't work as well as it could, customers will go elsewhere.

3. Application availability

When Apple launched the App Store in 2008, the company forever changed the mobile market. Now, consumers and even some enterprise customers expect to see a growing applications marketplace available on all the devices they own. That's precisely why Google continues to woo developers and why Microsoft is so concerned about getting more programs into its applications marketplace on Windows Phone 7 devices. Apple's App Store, which has over 350,000 apps right now, demonstrates that you can never have too many applications if you want to build a successful smartphone platform.

4. The vendor

When it's all said and done, customers need to know that they can trust a respective company. That's why unknown firms have trouble gaining traction in the mobile space, while well-known companies easily attract customers. Of course, building a reputable brand that consumers can trust is difficult. But as firms like RIM, Apple, Samsung and Motorola Mobility have shown that the company that's well-known and trusted will win out.

Screen Size, OS Features Are Decisive Factors


5. The customer focus

One of the key aspects of RIM's success over the years has been its desire to appeal to enterprise customers before all others. Unlike so many other firms that try to bridge the gap between the enterprise and consumers, RIM does nothing of the sort. Because of that, it's able to form a bond of sorts between its customers. They know RIM will be looking out for them, and RIM knows they will (usually) be loyal. Apple and Google have been able to achieve the same level of understanding on the consumer side. And companies that can do that typically enjoy success in the mobile market.

6. Screen size

Over the past year, screen size has become a key aspect of a smartphone's appeal. The issue became especially important after the Motorola Droid X and its 4.3-inch display launched. Now, rumors suggest that Apple will be increasing the size of its iPhone's display from 3.5 inches to 4 inches in the upcoming iPhone 5. What that should tell vendors is that small displays just don't work any longer. If Apple's potential move is any indication, customers want more screen real estate.

7. Operating system functionality

As mentioned, the operating system that vendors choose to put into a smartphone matters quite a bit to customers. But the functionality of that operating system is just as important. Nowadays, customers require multitasking, a full browsing experience, access to mobile app stores, copy and paste, and much more. Software providers that fail to deliver that won't have much success in the mobile space. That's why Apple brought multitasking to iOS 4, and why HP's updated WebOS promises a vastly improved multitasking feature.

8. Carrier availability

One of the biggest issues with the iPhone over the past several years has been its lack of carrier ubiquity. The smartphone was available only on AT&T's network in the United States. Now, it's running on Verizon's network, as well. And that could very well mean that Apple will sell even more smartphones. Admittedly, Apple's iPhone was successful running solely on AT&T's service. But Apple is a special case and as RIM, Microsoft and even Google have shown, in order to be successful in the smartphone market, software makers must have devices available on every major carrier network. It's an absolute necessity.

9. Riding the hype train

Since the release of the iPhone, hype has played a major role in the success or failure of devices. Apple's iPhone was well-hyped and it has sold well. The same can be said for the Motorola Droid X. But there are other devices, including the BlackBerry Torch, the Dell Aero and others, that lacked any hype whatsoever. They simply got to store shelves, and few customers knew they had arrived. It limited their popularity. Meanwhile, well-known smartphones stole most of the sales. If a smartphone is to be a success, it needs to have some hype.

10. Past performance

One of the key indicators of success or failure in the mobile market is the past performance of a respective company. Nowhere is that more evident than in Redmond, Wash. For far too long, Microsoft left Windows Mobile 6.5 on store shelves, while Apple and Google continued to capitalize on the touch-screen craze with their own operating systems. Microsoft finally broke into that space with Windows Phone 7 late last year. But the damage was done. Now, Microsoft is trying to rebuild its brand in the mobile market as more and more customers (and vendors) turn to Android. 

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