Mobile 2013: Defining decisions for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, Samsung

There'll be no more room for excuses for the major smartphone and tablet providers

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Samsung: Stop sending mixed messages
Of all the Android device makers, Samsung is the only one clearly trying to create a value-added platform. Like Google, its history had tended to be to copy others rather than innovate itself, but in the last couple years, Samsung has shown a new spirit of innovation. That's good.

What Samsung has not been so good at is creating a cohesive platform across its devices. It's cloned some Apple products -- it has versions of the iPod Touch and iPod Nano, for example. It's developed new form factors such as the Galaxy Note "phablet" and brought in pen computing to several models. It has smartphones and tablets in multiple sizes. It even has an Android-powered digital camera.

Samsung has it all, except for a consistent operating system. It's clear that each Samsung device has a separate team for the UI and Android capabilities, and that shows up as an inconsistent user experience -- precisely the wrong message to send if you want to be seen as a constellation of devices for every need. Samsung wants an Apple-like ecosystem, though more expansive. The good news is that it's done some rationalization via its "Jelly Bean" upgrades, but not enough.

Likewise, Samsung has been sending mixed messages about its operating system commitments. It's been focused mainly on Android, bit also has dabbled in the Windows Phone space. A couple years ago, it did well in some markets with its own Bada OS, aimed at lower-cost countries, but now has rolled that into the open source Tizen project, the latest version of the failed Linux-based operating systems (Maemo and MeeGo) that helped drag Nokia into irrelevance.

It makes sense to have different platforms for different markets, though given Android's free license and freedom to modify, it would seem to make more sense to work on a subset of Android for low-cost markets. Perhaps Samsung isn't confident in Android's long-term viability (or, more accurately, Google's good graces).

Research in Motion: Deliver or die
RIM spent years regarding the iPhone as a toy, then hoping its IT customers would keep the iPhone out of business. That's why RIM's share of new sales has declined to about 6 percent, while the iPhone is now the preferred business smartphone even when purchased by IT. RIM's board belatedly got a clue and fired RIM's old guard execs, and for the past two years the company has been on a never-ending road show promising that BlackBerry 10 will reinvent RIM and the BlackBerry. For RIM's sake, let's hope the development has been as aggressive as the marketing.

RIM has ony one task in 2013: prove it has a viable, desirable smartphone. It can do so in only one way: by delivering a viable, desirable smartphone. RIM has made many unfulfilled promises before, so it's not an easy bet. But we'll know by spring 2013 whether the BlackBerry 10 is as good as RIM swears it is.

If the BlackBerry 10 is good, RIM will still have its work cut out for it to get people to buy it, though a reservoir of BlackBerry diehards and business users disappointed with Windows Phone 8, untrusting of Android, and uninterested in iOS could help. If BlackBerry 10 is bad, RIM will need to sell whatever assets have value and close shop.

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