The launch of Samsung's Galaxy S5 with the same plastic design, similar Android interface to the S4 and a few extra goodies like a fingerprint reader illustrate why the smartphone market really needs the hungry underdogs in emerging countries to carry the mobile ball.
Folks, we've hit a plateau in smartphone innovation and we can't count on two dominant hardware makers---Apple and Samsung---and two platforms---iOS and Android---to do everything. My patience for evolution over revolution is going to wear thin in the not-to-distant future. You can only spin Samsung's penchant for the same Galaxy smartphone plastic design positive for so long.
In other words, I'm rooting for the likes of ZTE and the Firefox OS phone, Jolla in the EU and Xiaomi in China. How about Meixu and its Ubuntu phone as a fan favorite. Maybe we even toss in the Nokia engineers who developed an Android-forked phone as they were being acquired by Microsoft.
Hell, maybe BlackBerry or HTC can make a comeback. Both of those former smartphone stars have been bludgeoned enough to be a feel-good story if they capture just a quarter of their past glory.
Let's hear it for the hungry and potentially silly smartphone players who are finding novel ways to be a force. It's unclear how these stories will turn out, but it's hard not to root for David in the land of smartphone Goliaths.
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, it may pay to veer away from the incumbents. To wit:
- Mozilla is doubling down on low-end smartphones for its Firefox OS. Even if Mozilla isn't successful pushing $25 smarpthones in emerging markets is a welcome move. And guess what? One day these cheap Firefox phones will be good enough. Meanwhile, targeting emerging markets is a viable business strategy in a crowded mobile market.
- An Ubuntu phone strikes me as almost comical, but you never know. I have a hard time taking Ubuntu seriously relative to Mozilla just due to the partnerships, but who's to say Canonical, parent of Ubuntu, can't do more in the future than give existing Android phones a makeover. Maybe Meizu can make something work.
- Xiaomi isn't exactly a little guy anymore given that it aims to double smartphone production to 40 million, but the company is beating Samsung in China now. Xiaomi's global ambitions can't be too far behind.
- Jolla and its Sailfish OS is about to exit beta and the company's efforts are a bit of a long shot. Nevertheless, Jolla may be able to generate buzz the way Nokia used to in Finland.
You get the idea. The point is that smartphone innovation can move forward, but the big guys are going to need a kick in the behind to get there.