Currently, There Isn’t A Mobile “Market”. There Is Apple And Samsung.

Mobile World Congress has come and gone. And while there were a ton of awesome phones (and tablets) shown off, the phone that arguably had the most hype and excitement surrounding it wasn’t there — the Samsung Galaxy S III.

HTC’s One series of phones are a sign that the manufacturer is returning to their past focus on design as both the hardware of the One series and Sense 4.0 are some of the best things to come from HTC in several years. LG too had some decent hardware (on paper) that should sell a few million devices and make millions more. Motorola was there too, showed off some phones and…yeah. Nothing too exciting. The real winner: Samsung.

Say what you will about Samsung, their repeated attempts at copying Apple (swap “copying” with “innovating” if you want), and increasing courtroom tactics as of late, the company knows how to make a good Android device, maybe not in terms of software (definitely not), but there hardware certainly draws a crowd.

Case in point: The Samsung Galaxy S III hasn’t even officially been unveiled and no one knows what the specs are for sure, and yet the hype and news surrounding what the specs could be have been, to me at least, more prominent across the entire MWC week. The ability to steal public focus away from actual devices at a global tech trade show with a device that no one knows anything about yet is…very Apple.

But Samsung’s top position isn’t an easy one. Motorola could very well become an Android juggernaut once the sale to Google is finalized. Though, reports from several Google execs have more or less stated that “firewalls” between the two (but somehow one) companies will be enforced. My quick response to that is “if you’re not going to fully utilize Motorola to make some awesome hardware/software, why bother purchasing them”? And the quick response, of course, is for IP/courtroom firepower. Outside of any potential hope I have for some uber Googlrola phones, Motorola is just…there. Pumping out phones at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, those phones aren’t anything special.

Also nipping at Samsung’s heels is HTC. Back in their Windows Mobile hay day, HTC was the smartphone manufacturer to choose if you wanted a fully featured, powerful device. Android came along and they started out riding the same wave of success, partially with help from their Sense UI that they install on top of Android. But after a couple version upgrades (and apparently firing the old hardware engineer/designer) their handsets became boring, bloated and very un-unique. Sense 4.0 looks to be a step in the right direction; they removed bloat, simplified the UI and made it an overall nicer experience. Of course, the bigger question is do we really need these extra skins? In my eyes, no. But that’s another discussion in and of itself. The One series shown off at MWC is a sign that the old HTC is coming back. And that’s a good thing! If HTC can follow up with more well designed hardware like the One series they might have a chance once again.

And then there’s LG, a company who used to own the non-smartphone market (especially on VZW in the states). Since smartphones have come along, however, LG has always been like that nerdy kid in school without friends. It’s there, willing to do whatever it takes to be liked, but ultimately doing those things awkwardly and wrong. The last few flagship LG Android devices have been awesome on paper. But once held in your hand and actually used for a few days to weeks quickly becomes just like every other Android device — average. There’s nothing there that makes me want to spend money.

HTC and Motorola in particular have been involved in rumors over the last 12-18 months regarding financial success. Motorola’s a little worse off than HTC. (It’s worth noting neither company is anywhere close to folding.) Motorola’s problem is that their phones aren’t very different from model to model, and as of late, seem to rely on terrible PenTile displays that ruin an otherwise decent experience. And then there’s MOTOBLUR or whatever they’re calling it this month. No. Just no. HTC’s problems can be attributed to what I discussed above — fledging design and software.

Say What You Want About Samsung, They’re Actually Doing…

All that said, the way I see the market is simple: Apple vs. Samsung. Quite honestly, they’re the only two companies really doing anything in the mobile market right now when it comes to designing hardware that attracts people. And while the comparison is ironic given the amount of lawsuits going on between both companies as well as the cries of “copycat” are levied back and forth, Samsung is the only Android manufacturer that could attract Apple-like lines for devices.

The biggest success for Samsung most recently is the Galaxy S II. It’s sold tens of millions units around the globe, and still commands a top spot amongst Android enthusiasts. Whatever Samsung did to that phone in terms of optimization worked wonderfully. They made their own “iPhone”. In a way, you can think of the Galaxy S devices as Samsung’s own in-house “Nexus” devices. The phones are heavily optimized and perform better than your average Android device. If Samsung can keep re-creating this recipe, they’ve struck gold.

Conversely, Samsung’s tablet ambitions haven’t been quite as successful, with the company even admitting they’ve more or less “failed” to measurably cut away at the iPad’s dominance or success. Still, that hasn’t stopped Samsung from releasing an army of different-sized Galaxy Tabs. And perhaps the problem is just that — too much choice.

Going forward the battle for relevancy between Android manufacturers and the mobile market as a whole will continue to be a race won by inches. While today’s success stories involve Apple or Samsung, HTC looks to be coming back from their slump. Motorola could in no-time flat if Google would grow a pair and take charge.

And then there’s Windows Phone. While it’s still the underdog in the mobile world, struggling for a spot on stage, their products are becoming more entrancing. The Lumia series by Nokia is hands down the second best looking device next to the iPhone. With more great Nokia hardware (or just more great Windows Phone hardware in general) we could easily see Microsoft taking back a huge chunk of the market. A 3-way race between Apple, Samsung (or some other Android manufacturer) and Nokia would be an awesome event to watch unfold. That said, they (Microsoft and Nokia) definitely have their work cut out for them.

Hardware Isn’t Everything.

All of the above is based only on hardware. And while a gorgeous device is in many ways the “cover of the book” and therefore the first thing to be judged, it’s hardly the only deciding factor in smartphones anymore. As Apple has proven via insane profit earnings, people not only want a good piece of hardware but an enveloping ecosystem. Apple is king of ecosystems. In this light Android has a big dis-advantage (and probably always will) simply because varying manufacturers and carriers will never agree on a set standard. And as much we like choice and piecing together our own environment with our own favorite services, standards make the ecosystem better for developers, manufacturers and end users. The argument for and against open vs. closed ecosystems is one that will never cease. But frankly it doesn’t have to. Those pros and cons for each environment are what continually push either side to one-up the other.

Where Samsung is killing it in the Android world with hardware, the “underdog” Microsoft is the real up and coming threat to Apple. If they can continue getting developers onboard with the Windows Phone platform, and continue pushing Nokia to release gorgeous hardware, they’ve got a very good chance to at least match Apple at their own game.

But For Now…

For now, however, your feed readers and article skimming services are going to feature story after story of only two legitimately successful mobile companies, Apple and Samsung, because they’re the only two companies actually succeeding. Until Microsoft can get more people to actually care about their platform, having the best developers and all the gorgeous hardware in the world won’t matter. Microsoft has to do what Samsung has managed to do — make people want your hardware enough to constantly talk about it, and yes, even stand in line for it.

Image Sources: AdvancedTechnologyKora, YugaTech, DigitalTrends