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Monday, 11 July 2011

What changes in four years?

During the last week of June, there were a couple of news pieces floating around talking about the fact that Apple's iPhone had turned four years old and Apple had gone from zero to hero within four short years in the mobile phone industry.

At the same time of reading this, there was also a Twitter conversation that was going on between us and Gaganjeet Sethi, one of our followers on Twitter (@gaganjeet).  In that we were discussing the merits of HP's WebOS strategy, where HP was trying to enter the smartphone and tablet battle with remnants of the company once known as Palm.  Gaganjeet felt there was no chance HP could make a foothold and felt they are out of the race even before they even started trying to enter it.

This is when we responded back saying you can't concede that one platform is going to dominate another platform in the long term as a lot can change very quickly.  Gaganjeet agreed with us eventually but also, he'd inspired a blog post for us.

With this story about the iPhone turning four fresh in my mind, I got to thinking to of other examples of what's changed in four years.  Here's a summary that came to mind:

  • Four years ago, Nokia was the leading smartphone and mobile phone manufacturer.  Anyone who remembers the days of the Nokia Communicator family of products knows that Nokia created the smartphone segment.  
  • Due to Nokia's dominance, Symbian was the preferred OS.  Windows Mobile was making attempts to break in through earlier attempts of brands like iMate (which has since disappeared) and O2.  Symbian though is what brands like LG and Samsung also banked upon to break into the market.
  • Motorola's Razr was still a relatively successful product for the company.  No one else quite mastered the clamshell mobile phone segment like Motorola has and the Razr was one of those that kept them on top.
  • When buying a smartphone, the choices would've been iMate, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, O2, HP and Palm.  BlackBerry's weren't available yet in the UAE, Apple was just getting into the game, Samsung & LG hadn't ventured in yet, Motorola was busy in the feature phone mobile phone market and HTC was just moving out of their shell as an OEM manufacturer into being a branded smartphone device manufacturer.
  • Android as an OS platform didn't exist.  
  • Twitter was in its infancy and unknown to most of us.
  • A tablet was something a doctor gave you when we weren't well, not something you used while sitting in bed to watch movies on, read books or check your Facebook status updates.
While there's no doubt a lot more that can be added onto this list, it just goes to show you can't predict what'll dominate in two years, three years or five years from now.  The industry changes so quickly that you can't ever count anyone out.  WebOS could indeed turn out to the dominant OS platform of the future, RIM could turn their fortunes around or a Nokia-Windows Phone combination could bring the whole industry back into their grip.  They all could crash and burn as well.  

All too often, many in the journalist or analyst community have been quick to condemn the fate of an OS or a smartphone brand without actually waiting for them set foot properly.  With the launch of the iPhone four years ago, I wonder how many of those same journalists or analysts would've been able to predict the fact that Nokia would lose their number one spot in mobile phone sales in Europe to Samsung or that Apple would rise as rapidly as it did in a recession-hit world.

Keeping an open mind is difficult, even for those of us who try to remain objective but reflecting back like this every once in a while, can help keep things in perspective and show us how many times we actually got it wrong.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics