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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Microsoft: Go back to the drawing board
There's a lot wrong with Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8. At root is a silly strategy that for Windows 8 and RT forces a touch experience on nontouch devices and a nontouch experience on touch devices. Likewise, in Windows "classic" mode you get the full windowing environment that Windows got its name from, but not in the new Windows "Metro" mode, where your PC is suddenly made limited. Thus, no matter what operating mode you're in, a good portion of Windows 8 or RT just won't work right. The fact that you are switching between two very different modes just compounds the problem and cognitive dissonance.

There are ways that Microsoft could evolve Windows 8 to work better, as I've proposed previously. But when your fundamental problem starts at the core, it's usually best to start over. This time, it must do so with the same team for all versions, so there's a single architecture in place -- which is contrary to Microsoft's culture of warring fiefdoms. But a divided Microsoft will fall.

Windows Phone 8's problem is simpler: It's a lightweight OS with lightweight apps that seem more thrown together than designed, but it pretends to be a smartphone OS like iOS or Android. Microsoft would be best served to remarket Windows Phone 8 as the simple smartphone for the nongeek majority -- but that'll be a hard sell if it can't get carriers to cut user some slack on data access charges by providing lower data tiers for such "basic" smartphones.

Unfortunately, I suspect Microsoft will continue to pretend that Windows Phone 8 is a competitor to iOS and Android, fooling no one. And keeping its market share in the low single digits where all Windows Phone versions have been stuck. Buyers can tell the difference.

Nokia: Go low-cost
Microsoft's problems could be fatal for Nokia, which junked its Symbian OS and its multiple failed would-be successors (Maemo and MeeGo) a couple years ago in favor of Windows Phone. But Windows Phone has not helped Nokia, and its market share is at historic lows, underperforming even RIM's single-digit range. Its Nokia Lumia 920 flagship is selling poorly, with stock running low only because stores get a mere handful of units to begin with.

And Nokia has few options to stand out in the Windows Phone world, thanks to Microsoft's rigid specifications -- Nokia can't pull a Samsung. Its custom apps, such as Nokia Drive, aren't nearly enough to excite would-be users to turn away from iOS or Android. It's also finding unusually strong competition on the hardware side from HTC's Windows 8X, which is sleeker than Nokia's Lumia 920.

I just don't see how Nokia can make a go of it in the premium smartphone market with Windows Phone. Apple and Samsung rightfully rule there. HTC has a better shot in the midrange space, given its prowess in building nice-looking smartphones for Android and Windows Phone and its brand recognition in the key North American market where Nokia has been largely absent for years. HTC can play the good-enough game better than Nokia can, and given how HTC has struggled to make profits in the Android market, it has a strong incentive to aggressively compete with Nokia in the Windows Phone market.

Nokia has long been the dominant cellphone maker worldwide, thanks not to high-end phones but low-end units. Its Symbian smartphones were not its mainstay, and they were never that smart anyhow. Series 40 was Nokia's mainstay OS, and Nokia continues to push that cellphone OS in the form of the Asha series for emerging markets where phones need to cost $40 to $90 before subsidies, not $400 to $900 as most smartphones do.

Of course, that low-cost phone market is where the Chinese rising stars such as ZTE and Huawei are focused, and it's not clear Nokia can compete with the state-subsidized, low-labor-cost Chinese juggernauts any more than it can compete with the superior Apple and Android offerings. But I'm not sure Nokia has a choice any more. I am sure that Windows Phone won't save it.

Now it really gets interesting
Each mobile provider has several big decisions to make in 2013 -- decisions that in each case will make, break, or reshape them. The coming year will truly be pivotal. It will be fascinating to see what happens.

This article, "Mobile 2013: Defining decisions for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, Samsung," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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