Smartphone Market: Apple vs. Samsung (Android) vs. Nokisoft?

It seems amazing to think that just a couple of years ago Samsung didn't really have a smartphone lineup. Now the South Korean company has become the dominant maker of Android handsets globally. Chief rivals HTC and Motorola (soon to be a part of Google) have been overshadowed by the larger company.

Hurt by competition (read: Samsung) last week HTC posted its first quarterly loss in the contemporary smartphone era. Motorola also said its quarterly results would be weaker than previously estimated, negatively impacted by smartphone competition (again Samsung). 

Samsung has done a ton of marketing in the US and around the world for its Galaxy line-up of smartphones. Some of that appears to be paying off. According to a December ChangeWave consumer survey (US, n=4,073) more consumers are saying they're going to buy a Samsung handset than rivals (other than the iPhone). 

ChangeWave smartphone buying plan survey

Source: ChangeWave

So if it's the iPhone vs. Android (increasingly Samsung), who will occupy the "third ecosystem" slot? Obviously it will either be RIM or Nokia-Microsoft. RIM is not yet in free-fall but nearly so. Meanwhile Microsoft has received a great deal of positive coverage in advance of the introduction of the Nokia Lumia 900. Many financial analysts are now bullish on Nokia and Microsoft's mobile prospects.

This weekend the New York Times had an extensive and favorable piece on the development of the Window Phone OS: 

Windows Phone, which began appearing in devices last fall, certainly stands out visually. It has bold, on-screen typography and a mosaic of animated tiles on the home screen — a stark departure from the neat grid of icons made popular by the iPhone. While most phones force users to open stand-alone apps to get into social networks, Facebook and Twitter are wired into Windows Phone. The tiles spring to life as friends or family post fresh pictures, text messages and status updates. 

The design of Windows Phones is both a strength and a weakness -- because they're different. While it's very beautiful in some "areas," parts of the Windows Phone UI are over-designed. But in general it's an impressive achievement for Microsoft. 

I saw and held the Lumia 900 last week; it's a very nice phone. Yet I don't believe that it will lure people at the "high end."

Those buying the iPhone 4S or the Galaxy Nexus are unlikely to switch allegiances. Nokisoft's best shot, in my view, is to capture those upgrading from feature phones and get them used to the unfamiliar Windows Phone UI. But that initial change from the iPhone look and feel (or Android which imitates it) will be somewhat jarring for many people.

The lack of apps is also a competitive disadvantage for Windows Phones. More apps will be developed over time, especially if consumers start buying Windows Phones. Another curiosity of Windows Phones: the IE browser doesn't seem to enable sites to detect a mobile device and show their mobile version. This is good in some cases but mostly a weakness. 

This year will be "make or break" for both Windows Phones and RIM, though more so for RIM. Both will battle for enterprise and consumer hearts and minds and for this third ecosystem slot. My guess is that Windows Phones (and Nokia) will probably win.