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2009 Wrap-Up. 2010 Predictions, Part III.
27th December 2009
Another company facing difficulties, largely down to uninspired design and terrible reliability problems. As a result of this, we awarded Sony Ericsson the "prize" for the worst handset of 2009, the Sony Ericsson W705.
The second half of 2009 saw some much-needed innovation from Sony Ericsson, although it's too early to say if their quality control issues are fixed. In particular, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 is attracting some interest, even if the release has now been delayed until 2010.
There are three significant mobile phone manufacturers who are endangered at the moment - Motorola, Palm and Sony Ericsson. Palm's future depends on the success of the Pre and Pixi, and it has been trying very hard to make it work. Motorola is a little different, but the mobile division is still a core component of the company. But for Sony Ericsson's parent companies in the joint venture (Ericsson and Sony, obviously) the failure of their mobile phone business would not have a significant impact on their bottom line, especially given the scale of recent losses.
Gone are the glory days of the K750i, W800i and P900. Over the past few years, Sony Ericsson have shown very little that is truly innovative. At present the only smartphone in Sony Ericsson's range is the XPERIA X1, which is actually made by rivals HTC. The replacement XPERIA X2 has been delayed until sometime next year, and the XPERIA X10 isn't out yet either.
At the moment, the Sony Ericsson venture is not serving its owners very well, and it is not serving customers very well either. Despite some truly great handsets in the past, a dispassionate look at Sony Ericsson might lead you to think that it would be no great loss to the world if it was closed down completely. We give it a 50/50 chance for surviving 2010.
While other manufacturers are slimming down product ranges, Samsung's "scatter gun" approach of trying to fill every available market niche seems to be succeeding.
Samsung's product launches are prolific, but not very well coordinated within their own company. There's a lack of focus in their product range, and often a lack of hard information about what handsets can do. Despite this slightly ramshackle effort, Samsung have scored some notable successes, in particular with the Samsung Corby (or Genio) and also high-end devices like the Samsung Pixon 12.
One key feature of new Samsung handsets during 2010 will be the Bada operating platform. This is really an extension and formalisation of what Samsung have already been doing, but by creating "Bada" they are allowing third party developers to create applications to extend the capabilities of a wide range of phones. In truth, it doesn't matter a lot to Samsung if Bada fails, but if it succeeds then it will make Samsung an even more powerful force in the marketplace.
There has also been some speculation about the wide range of operating systems that Samsung support, currently Windows Mobile, Android, LiMo and Symbian plus the upcoming Bada platform. Conflicting stories suggest that Samsung may drop Windows Mobile, Symbian or both.. and then other stories say that they remain fully committed. Our bet is that Symbian will vanish from Samsung's lineup, but Windows Mobile will remain.
LG is the other major Korean mobile phone manufacturer and Samsung's greatest rival. Growing from a second tier manufacturer a few years ago to one of the "big five" now, until recently LG have avoided the smartphone battle by competing mostly in the fashion phone market.
One of LG's notable phones this year was the LG BL40 Chocolate, this has enjoyed some market success and critical acclaim. Elsewhere, LG are busy trying to standardise their own "S-Class" users interface across smartphones and non-smartphones alike.
LG have pushed into the Android marketplace with the LG GW620 and Windows with the LG GM730. Expect to see a few more smartphones next year, but we still think that the bulk of LG's efforts will be on their fashion phone range.
RIM / BlackBerry
We got some flak when we suggested that there were black clouds on the horizon for the BlackBerry brand, because on the surface it seems that sales are booming.
But the lack of innovation from RIM this year has been shocking. In the space of a year, the handful of products they have released include the BlackBerry Storm2, essentially just a bugfix of the previous year's BlackBerry Storm, and some other marginal upgrades to existing handsets where the main improvement has been replacing the navigation roller with a track pad.
RIM's traditional "cash cow" market of corporate email is under attack from Microsoft, and competition in the consumer sector is becoming brutal. RIM is countering this by pushing into new markets, and the result of this is that profits keep going up and up.. but in the long term, our view is that RIM's BlackBerry range is far too limited and doesn't seem to have an obvious way to develop. Perhaps RIM might choose to ditch their proprietary operating system and look elsewhere, Android for instance. But we don't expect to see much action from RIM until sales growth starts to falter, and we think that we will start to see the first signs of this in 2010.
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