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Will Apple, Google and Samsung lose the smartphone market?

Mike Elgan | Jan. 28, 2013
Mobile phone competition intensifies. Linux-based platforms are gunning for iOS and Android, and Chinese companies want to price the iPhone and the Galaxy S line out of the market.

Google later came out with the Galaxy Nexus (made by Samsung) and later still the Nexus 4.

Google also bought Motorola last year, both for the patents and also presumably to assert some control over the direction of Android mobile devices.

The first serious assertion of that control may be the development of a device called the Google X phone, which is being developed at Motorola and which is expected to be unveiled at Google's May developer's conference, Google I/O.

Nobody knows what the Google X phone (and tablet) will be like, but hints, rumors and speculation agree that it will be very different from existing Android phones.

All this strong competition from Google makes handset makers wonder whether Google is friend or foe, and whether they might be better off with another software platform.

These disaffected Google partners may be looking more closely at Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, now that Nokia reported some impressive numbers (both of which included the numeral 4, oddly enough): The company sold 4.4 million Lumia Windows Phone devices and reported a year-over-year quarterly U.S. market revenue increase of 444%.

Although the market punished Nokia's earnings, a careful analyst might notice that Nokia's Lumia line failed horribly in the so-called "emerging markets" of China and elsewhere, but succeeded in the U.S. and Europe. The company is making more money on far fewer handsets than before. In other words, Windows Phone 8 may be helping Nokia's economic situation become less like Google's (high volume, low margin) and more like Apple's (high margin, low volume).

Beyond iOS, Android and Windows Phone, there are other emerging platforms under consideration by some current Android handset makers.

In fact, Google's biggest and most profitable Android partner, Samsung, is supporting a new platform called Tizen. (Intel is also a backer.) If Samsung switched from Android to Tizen, the phone platform scene would be transformed overnight. The first Tizen devices are expected within three months.

Mozilla, the people who make the Firefox browser, are developing the Firefox OS for smartphones. The first Firefox phones are expected to hit next month.

The people at Ubuntu Linux, the most popular client version of that operating system, are building a version for smartphones.

HP's WebOS, acquired from Palm, is still a potential factor, especially since HP plans to release an open-source version called Open WebOS.

Note that all of these platforms -- Tizen, Firefox OS, Ubuntu Linux and Open WebOS -- are Linux-based and all or most will be relatively open compared with Android.

Meet the new handset makers

While upstart platforms threaten to take advantage of weaknesses in the iOS and Android worlds, a similar thing is happening in handsets.

 

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