For a long time, one of the dramas in the smartphone market was whether a third major operating system (OS) would catch on to pose a real threat to the Apple iOS/Google Android duopoly. It’s pretty much settled that those two main players are dominant, and niche players BlackBerry and Windows Phone, as well as a few lower-profile OSes, would hang around the fringes but pose no significant threat.
The next act in the drama may be which hardware companies exit the stage. Making a respectable amount of devices may no longer be enough. Gartner is expressing doubts that smartphone manufacturers that lack a strong software ecosystem or produce a huge amount of devices will be viable over the long haul, according to PCWorld. The status of HTC, BlackBerry and Microsoft as device makers may be up in the air.
The segment is in transition, but the market is expected to grow. If some players exit the manufacturing market, others may join, or current players may grow stronger.
Last month, Microsoft said it would lay off 1,850 workers and take a charge of about $950 million on the hardware side of its smartphone business, according to The Wall Street Journal. The strategy is to entice IT managers to use Windows 10 to “lock down and control” devices on their networks. The approach, which an analyst called the company’s “last play” in an effort to transition from a PC to mobile company, doesn’t have much of a device angle to it. It remains to be seen if physical devices are an afterthought to the new strategy -- or no thought at all.
While the market is transitioning, we’ll have no shortage of physical devices. BlackBerry, changing from a software- to a hardware-centric company, in particular, still promises to introduce interesting devices. Indeed, a highlight for the past couple of years is the success of the Android-powered Priv.
Other changes include Google aiming for a 2017 launch of what could be the wave of the future, Project Ara. CNET featured a deep dive into the project, with insight from lead engineer Rafa Camargo:
Camargo is the lead engineer on Project Ara, Google's attempt to build a smartphone that lets you swap out its parts like Lego blocks -- just by popping them on and off. Slide in a couple of speaker modules if you're throwing a party, insert an additional battery if you'll be out on the town or even slot in exotic modules like glucometers (for diabetics) or sensors to measure air quality. While we've recently seen LG attempt to build a modular smartphone with the G5, these Ara snap-on concepts are the kind of features you'd never find on a normal phone built for mass-market adoption.
The smartphone sector of the physical device market is changing, but it is far too early -- at least a couple of years, in all likelihood -- to get an accurate read on how the new landscape will look.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.