A few OEMs understood the need to add real value as well. Thus, HTC's second Android smartphone, the Droid Eris, had an innovative UI that masked some of that generation of Android's defects. The Eris gave HTC a position in the Android market it never would have enjoyed otherwise. Unfortunately, HTC has't really followed up and has fallen back into the sea of "who cares?" OEMs.
Samsung traced a similar path with its Galaxy S smartphone line, which boasted more cutting-edge components and a sleeker design than in competitors' models; it gained a big following last summer. But quality problems began to appear, and it released the Galaxy Tab, a so-so tablet using a nontablet form of the Android OS that ended up looking dowright dowdy compared to an iPad; it also diminished a lot of the company's luster.
Then there's Motorola, a company that has had execution and insular vision problems for years. Like Apple in 1999, it has been in serious crisis, recently splitting into two companies. Before that split, it decided to truly bet the farm on Android and to add its own value to the mix rather than just slap Android onto a Razr. Its Droid series has been successful, even with its unloved MotoBlur interface.
Motorola also shipped the first (and still only) real Android tablet, the Xoom, which compared decently to the iPad. It's a second-class tablet to be sure, but at least it belongs on the train. The Atrix smartphone and its companion Lapdock are really interesting innovations, the only recent Android developments that show the same kind of direction-defining potential as the first iPhone.
But whether Motorola can keep itself together to develop that potential is an open question: Each of its products suffers from inconsistencies that make no sense, given the same company developed them all. These problems suggest insularity and balkanization are still issues at Motorola Mobility.
It really is down to Apple, Google, and maybe the WebOS wild card
Still, it's possible that Motorola could pull an Apple and be the comeback darling we all celebrate four or five years from now. HP could also be in that position. It's realized that making generic PCs is a dead-end business, as would making generic smartphones. Instead, it bought Palm for its WebOS and now plans to bring WebOS to smartphones, tablets, and PCs, in a bold move to unify the three types of computing devices. It's the kind of move that Microsoft could and probably should have tried. It'll be a stretch for HP, and what HP showed recently for the forthcoming WebOS didn't inspire me, but at least it's taking a run at breaking from the past.
Apple is clearly going to be the idea and profit powerhouse in mobile, even if Google has more market share. Google, which seems to be realizing its fully open model could hurt Android, could also be more of a driving force if it figures out how to lead an alliance of strong OEMs (such as Motorola and perhaps Samsung and/or HTC) rather than let the OEMs damage its brand with their "slap it together" mentality. HP may have a shot of being the third engine.
The rest are history. RIM, Microsoft, Nokia, and Dell are all toast in the mobile market -- the walking dead who should be looking for burial plots. Mourn them if you must, but it's time to move on. Don't get buried along with them.
This article, "Anatomy of failure: Mobile flops from RIM, Microsoft, and Nokia," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.