The Smartphone News Won't Be Good for Everyone Forever

Carl Weinschenk
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Top Five Smartphone Vendors

2010 smartphone shipments were up 74.4 percent worldwide over 2009.

In the assessment of the smartphone industry, observers are accustomed to nothing but uplifting verbiage. Smartphones are exploding - usually just figuratively - and the future is limitless.

Such great news can't go on forever. ZDNet's Larry Dignan thinks that the party soon will be over, at least for some vendors. He blogs that there have to be losers, and that they will soon become apparent.

Of course, Apple and the iPhone won't be among the losers. On Dec. 8, I wrote about the downside of the success AT&T is having selling the phone and the problems that may cause for the carrier. The bottom line, however, is that times are good for vendors, and figure to remain so. CNET offers the broad view:

Customers eager for Apple's new flagship phone are typically seeing wait times of two weeks for certain models at Verizon and AT&T and one week at Sprint. But iPhone sales so far have reached around 6 million at AT&T, 4 million at Verizon, and between 1.75 million and 2 million at Sprint.

But not all vendors will be so fortunate. Writes Dignan:

HTC's sales are plunging. Nokia is betting the company on Windows Phone devices. Research in Motion can't get out of its own way. Welcome to the upcoming shakeout in the smartphone market. Any vendor that's relying primarily on hardware may want to duck.

It is a game of elimination. If it is assumed that Apple is safe and if it also is assumed that most of the others got to their preeminent positions by leveraging Android, Dignan's point comes into view: Either an existing Android vendor or two will suffer, the demise of BlackBerry will be accelerated, Windows Phone will not take hold or a little bit of everything will end up happening. Apple and Android (as a collective) are safe - but individual companies will suffer.

The all-of-the-above choice indeed seems the most likely. BlackBerry has had its celebrated problems, and Windows Phone has been anything but a runaway success. More will be known about Microsoft's gambit soon, as Windows Phone - in the form of the Nokia Lumia 710 on the T-Mobile Network - comes to the United States.

It's an important introduction, at least according to eWeek:

One of the big questions for mobile in 2012 is whether Nokia's partnership with Microsoft will help Nokia regain a successful entry into the U.S. market, where the Finnish company has been conspicuously absent for the past couple of years. A lot could be decided this month as reports surfaced that T-Mobile and Nokia plan to make the Lumia 710 smartphone its first device available in the United States with the Windows Phone operating system.

The bottom line is that the tune has been playing a game of musical chairs. It is bound to stop soon, with various Android players, RIM and Microsoft rushing to find a seat and, like all good games of musical chairs, somebody will be left standing.

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