Review of Top Mobile Events for 2010, With Predictions for 2011

If you have to pick one word to sum up this year, you'd be hard pressed to find a more fitting one than "Android." Why? Consider this: Google's mobile OS had less than 3 percent of the global smartphone market in January, but during 2010 sales of Android mobile devices went berserk.

The mobile operating system has gone from weakling to 800 pound gorilla in the space of 12 months, and the little green trashcan now commands a staggering 25 percent of the smartphone market, according to Gartner -- more than Apple's iOS (17 percent), more than RIM's BlackBerry OS (15 percent), and within spitting distance of world market leader Nokia.

By contrast 2010 was a miserable year for the Finnish mobile device maker, which saw its market share drop like a stone from almost 50 percent to 37 percent as the world abandoned Nokia products in increasing numbers. Where did it all go wrong for the Finns? Partly Nokia got caught napping while consumers and business users moved to touchscreen devices, and partly the company's response to this was more confusing than the story line of the movie Inception.

During 2010 Nokia users learned that Symbian was finished, Symbian^3 was on its way, and Maemo, Nokia's other mobile OS, was merging with Intel's Moblin to make Meego. Understandably many decided it was all too much, and just bought an Android device instead. Few could blame them.

On the other hand, the past year promised to be a year of plenty for Apple, and the year certainly started with a bang when the Cupertino company launched its iPad to great critical acclaim. Customers queued up to buy them and enterprise software companies such as Oracle, Citrix and Salesforce.com flocked to make apps for them. Rumors soon abounded of Android tablets that would be available at half the price to provide some healthy competition in the newly-hot tablet space.

April saw the first big casualty of the year, with poor old Palm finally giving up pedaling its generally well-reviewed but rarely-bought Pre smartphone, as well as its Pre-lite Pixi device. Truth be told, Palm only ever made one really great device, the original Palm Pilot, and it's been downhill ever since. The company was swallowed whole for $1.2 billion by the giant HP, which plans to produce smartphones and tablets with Palm's webOS next year. With the considerable resources of HP behind it, only a fool would write webOS off yet.

Apple didn't rest on its laurels after the launch of the iPad. In June, shortly after overtaking Microsoft to become the world's biggest technology company, it introduced the iPhone 4. This was supposed to be its most fun and most enterprise-ready iPhone ever. Trouble was, no one at Apple seemed to have noticed that the devices' external antennas didn't work too well when held in the so-called grip of death.

"Antennagate" caused plenty of headlines (although it didn't seem to hurt sales too much) and resulted in Apple releasing a hasty firmware update to correct the way that signal strength is displayed. The company also -- for a limited time -- offered a free case to everyone who had bought an iPhone 4.

Froyo, Windows 7 and RIM

June also saw the release of Android 2.2 Froyo, a watershed version of Google's OS which offered noticeable speed improvements as well as introducing a mass of new features including better Microsoft Exchange support, Adobe Flash 10.1 support, and, for road warriors with laptops, a rather handy Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. Froyo was initially available on Google's Nexus One handset, but was quickly (and in some cases not so quickly) rolled out to most of the current Samsung, Motorola and HTC Android phones on the market.

Microsoft found itself severely embarrassed in July thanks to "Kin-gate." The Redmond giant was in an awkward place anyway with the terrible Windows Mobile 6.5 on its last legs and the all new Windows Phone 7 OS still several months away, but what on earth possessed the company to launch a over-priced kids' social networking phone called the Kin, which couldn't even run mobile apps? After just three months on the market and a rumored 500 units sold, Microsoft abandoned the wretched device and slunk off, tail between its legs, to concentrate on its last throw of the dice in the smartphone space: Windows Phone 7.

RIM tried to stem its falling market share with the launch in August of BlackBerry 6, its all singing, all dancing touchscreen smartphone OS, running on the BlackBerry Bold 9780, BlackBerry Style 9670 and BlackBerry Torch 9800. BlackBerry users seem to like it, but it offered no compelling reason for Android or iPhone users to defect to it.

Hardcore enterprise BlackBerry users were alarmed shortly after when RIM ran into trouble in various countries including India and Saudi Arabia. The problem stemmed from the fact that the mobile security on BlackBerry devices is so great that the authorities couldn't intercept users' messages in those countries. Threatened with being banned, RIM finally came to a deal which involved installing local servers in the countries concerned to enable the spooks to tap in to BlackBerry communications.

RIM wasn't finished though, and in September the company announced its PlayBook tablet, a companion to BlackBerry 6 devices and a competitor to Apple's iPad. The tablet will support Flash 10.1, and will run the esoteric QNX Neutrino operating system.

The announcement of the PlayBook begged one big question: where was that deluge of Android tablets that everyone expected when the iPad was launched? September did bring a partial answer -- in some countries at least -- in the form of the generally well received 7" Samsung Galaxy tablet running Android 2.2 Froyo.

The year drew to a close with the launch of Windows Phone 7, complete with an Office hub and Exchange readiness, to great fanfare and much TV advertising. Unfortunately for Microsoft the market reaction was distinctly "meh", with many retailers finding the mobile devices hard to shift, and only a rumored 40,000 sold in the first day. That might seem like a large number, but early indications are that Nokia's N8 running Symbian^3 is outselling Windows Phone 7 devices by a margin of 3 to 1.

The mobile landscape for 2011

So predictions for 2011? Nokia really does seem to be out of touch and out of ideas, so expect its market share to fall further. RIM may have done enough to prevent too many of its customers defecting but it would be a surprise if it maintains its current 15 percent market share. That means that there's plenty up for grabs for Apple and particularly Android, which has the benefit of a presence on multiple carriers, with multiple manufacturers. Unless Apple allows the iPhone onto other US carrier networks it will be hard for its handset to compete on level terms.

And a long shot for next year? It could well be that Android phones aimed at the enterprise user, with companion Android tablets that can be linked by Bluetooth to display content stored on the phone, could be the surprise mobile computing hit of 2011. Palm attempted this with its ill-fated Foleo a few years back, but RIM (with it's PlayBook) clearly thinks that it is an idea whose time has come. The question is, can RIM make it work, or will the company get outsmarted by Android all over again. I wouldn't bet against it.