You might call it a lack of ambition. Or you could just call it being very pragmatic. At a recent roundtable with reporters in Tokyo, the head of Sony’s mobile business professed his desire to be the No. 3 player in smartphones behind Apple and Samsung. BlackBerry’s CEO said the same thing heading up to the launch of BlackBerry Z10. Breaking the Sampple duopoly is no easy task, given that IDC says the two companies account for more than 50 percent of smartphones sold worldwide.
It’s not all doom and gloom. China-based Huawei’s smartphone shipments are actually growing faster than Samsung, and both ZTE and Sony are growing faster than Apple. All of the above upstarts use Google’s Android software, but there are plenty of promising alternatives, from Windows Phone (led by Nokia) and BlackBerry to more off-the-beaten-path platforms like Firefox OS (embraced by ZTE). So which of these contestants have the best shot at taking on the two-headed monster? Here’s my take.
Given that China is expected to comprise about a third of the smartphone market this year, it makes sense that Nokia just debuted lower-cost Windows Phones like the Lumia 520.Meanwhile, Nokia says it sold 4.4 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, a significant jump from 2.9 million in the previous quarter. Still, Windows Phone has seen very little traction in the U.S. In fact, share for Nokia's platform of choice fell from 3.2 percent to 3.1 percent from October of last year to January, according to comScore.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop recently said that Windows Phone “can be the biggest operating system in the world,” but it won’t be with progress like that. A shot in the arm could be coming soon in the form of the rumored Lumia 928 for Verizon. Nokia fans are also waiting for a thinner, lighter Lumia with an aluminum design. Of biggest concern is whether Microsoft will release its own Surface phone, which would really take the wind out Nokia's sales.
Outlook: It’s not a good sign when Nokia is literally begging Instagram for a Windows Phone app. It’s time the company brought its design expertise and PureView camera to Android and hedge its platform bet.
Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark’s SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter and Google+.