2012 Mobile state of the union: Part 1 of 3: Smartphones

This 3-part series will take a look at the mobile space in 2012. Part 1: Smartphones.

It is the time of year to turn our thoughts to what the mobile space will be like in 2012. In this three-part series, I will take a look at three major sectors in mobile: smartphones, tablets, and laptops. This series will appear over the next three days, given the short week in the U. S. due to the holiday. In part 1, we take a look at smartphones in 2012.

The rapidly changing mobile space

The mobile space moves at breakneck speed, especially the last few years. We have seen the cell phone go from an expensive business tool to a gadget that is owned by most people. The giant brick mobile phone evolved into the thin slice of today's smartphone. Never in history have so many of the world's population held so much computing power in their hands, and the precense of social networks brings world events to our pockets.

In the last decade we have seen the birth of the tablet, and watched it transform from a heavy slab to the thin slate of today. Millions have discovered that a tablet, a mobile device can fill almost all their computing needs, and many believe a post-PC era has begun.

Over the same ten years the laptop has become the main computer for many consumers and the enterprise, as the convenience of a computing system in one piece at an attractive price beats the old school system of multiple components all wired together. The laptop has changed from a giant, heavy, heat generator with poor battery life to a thin, highly portable form with the ability to run nearly all day on a single charge.

Turning our eyes to the mobile space in 2012, we will see a continuing evolution in all three of these mobile sectors. Rather than earthshaking breakthroughs in mobile technology, importantly we will see the mobile device play an increasing more significant role in society. More folks will continue to tap into the global community than ever before, and mobile technology will be the tool that brings more of the world together.

Smartphones

Next year will see the smartphone space continue much as it has this year, with the same major players. Android will continue growing as a platform, but I think it will slow down somewhat in 2012. The platform has settled into a mature platform, and subsequent upgrades will be incremental rather than revolutionary. It will take most of next year for Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) to become the standard version in the installed base, in spite of handling both phones and tablets.

Windows Phone took a long time to get rolling in the marketplace, but it should pick up speed in 2012. The partnership with Nokia should yield more handsets that are state-of-the-art, augmented by Mango and other updates we will see next year. We might see more OEMs jump on the Windows Phone platform in 2012, as public awareness grows. The enterprise should take a deeper look at the OS from Microsoft, as concerns over malware and security with Android continue to rise to the surface.

Apple should unveil the next iPhone, and most likely it will add 4G capability. It will probably have a new form, although nothing radically different than the iPhone 4/4S. The technology behind Siri should leave beta status next year, and will integrate into more of the iOS system on the new iPhone. Rather than hardware improvements catching the eyes of the industry, Apple's virtual SIM technology that may roll out in 2012 could set the mobile space on its ear. This will put the ability for customers to leave one carrier and use the iPhone on another carrier solely in Apple's hands, and not the carriers. Having a SIM that is programmable only by Apple will upset business as usual for the carriers, and they won't like it one bit. This could be the biggest disruptor in 2012.

RIM will bring out the first phones running BBX, the new OS based on QNX. It will have a hard time enticing customers back to the BlackBerry, and it is not clear how successful the attempt will be. We very well may see major promotions giving the BlackBerry away, to keep the installed base from dropping precipitously. If the new BBX platform doesn't hit the market running, RIM may find itself in serious trouble.

Amazon may release a smartphone of its own in 2012, riding on the success of the Kindle Fire. It will be based on Android like the Fire, but with the Amazon look-and-feel. It will sell millions of these phone next year, if launched by the fourth quarter.

These five platforms, counting Amazon's Android fork as a separate platform, will totally dominate the smartphone space next year, and it is not likely another will step up to challenge them. Android and iOS will together own the vast majority of the smartphone market, with Windows Phone picking up more share from Android than it has to date.

Hardware will continue to improve, with faster processors appearing. Dual core processors will be the standard, while a few Android superphones sporting quad core chipsets will blow the doors off everything else. The inclusion of 4G capability will become the norm in the U. S. Unlimited data plans will continue to be phased out and customers will get a taste of hitting data caps in increasing numbers.

Totally platform independent, the smartphone with its integrated camera will continue to transform the global community, one tweet and video at a time. As brilliantly detailed by ZDNet colleague Zack Whittaker, the relationship between citizens and the authorities will be impacted by the presence of the smartphone in the global population. It is no longer possible for authorities to put spin on untenable situations, with thousands, even millions recording events in real time. The smartphone will become the most important factor in social media next year, putting power back in the hands of the people.

Tomorrow: 2012 Mobile state of the union: Part 2 of 3: Tablets

Image credit: Flickr user stockerre

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