While 2010 has been the year of the tablet, we certainly think it might as well be called the year of the mobile. We saw the launch of new mobile operating systems, countless phones, new chipsets, new display technologies, tablet-phones, phone-cameras, and a lot more...
Seven new operating systems were released in 2010 - Apple's much updated iOS 4, Google's polished Android Froyo, RIM's touch-friendly BlackBerry OS 6, Symbian Foundation's much maligned SymbianA3, Intel and Nokia's MeeGo, HP-Palm's refreshed webOS2.0, and Microsoft's mixed review champion - Windows Phone 7.
All of these brought some-thing new to the table, and all of them learnt something from each other. A thing that they all share in common is a conscious movement towards simplicity, with seamless form, followed up by powerful functionality. Each offered users many of the features they'd been asking for, and each received varied amounts of praise and criticism. No matter how well they fared against each other now, the future of all these platforms looks promising, with major updates already promised to arrive by next year, and all the bustling competition making the end user the real winner.
Apple's iOS devices, and the iPhone have been doing especially well this year - over 14 million iPhones sold in last quarter. However, Android saw the most remarkable growth this year, despite what some call fragmentation in the form of three separate operating systems on sale in the market. Starting with a U.S. smartphone market share of 14 per cent in January (according to an AC Nielsen report), compared to Apple's 32 per cent and RIM's 34 per cent, Android assimilated a dominating 32 per cent share of the market by August 2010, leaving RIM and Apple each a quarter. The introduction of Froyo (Android 2.2), saw wide-scale manufacturer adoption, and a burgeoning of Android market share.
Now, Gingerbread (Android 2.3) is already being shown off, and the improvements it promises will soon be mass-adopted by manufacturers in early 2011. Android, just like iOS, will soon also get a tablet-oriented variant, called Honeycomb (Android 3.0).
Nokia remained at the top of the handset market, but lost a chunk of its lead. LG, Sony Ericsson and RIM also suffered major losses, while Apple saw some astounding growth - bagging a top four spot, ahead of RIM and Sony Ericsson! Samsung held on to its fifth spot. HTC and Motorola, although not on the list for now, are also quickly gaining market share, and might pose a serious threat to Apple and RIM in 2011.
At home in India, it's the domestic brands that have made the most impact, taking chunks of market shares away from Nokia and Samsung. We have a really complex market, with about 35 brands competing in a cut-throat business. In India, Nokia's share fell from 54 per cent at the end of June 2009 to 36.3 per cent in June 2010. In contrast, the top four domestic brands (Micromax, Spice, Karbonn and Lava) together account for nearly 33 per cent of the sales. Now Nokia has contested these figures, and these numbers are usually consumed with a pinch of salt, but it's undeniable that the Indian brands are on the rise .. The Top 5 according to IDC were Nokia, Samsung, G'Five, LG, and Micromax.
With a launch seemingly every other day, 2010 was a joy for tablet lovers. The Apple iPad was the first major device to hit the market in April, and it sold a whopping 3 million units in less than three months!
Other tablets were slow to arrive on the scene officially, with the Samsung Galaxy Tab hitting markets only recently, after the Dell Streak launched in June to a lukewarm reception. The Toshiba Folio 100 also launched with poor reviews. The CrunchPad, which later became the JooJoo from Fusion Garage, gave us hope, but it was plagued with usability issues. The Indian favorite, Notion Ink's Adam, is still under development, and is expected to release only in 2011, but it still looks promising.
HP ended-up sticking with webOS 2.0 for its consumer-oriented tablets, and used Windows 7 on its enterprise oriented devices. It's just released the high-performance HP Slate 500 for enterprise customers, which looks to have a promising future.
The Apple iPad has yet to hit Indian markets, officially. The most interesting tablet available here is Olive Telecom's recently released OlivePad VT100 - an Android 2.2-based, 7-inch tablet with full phone functionality as well as 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, and is priced around ~24,000. ViewSonic owns rights to the design in some markets, including the US and Europe, and is launching it as the ViewSonic ViewPad 7. ViewSonic will also release three more tablets soon. Other manufacturers, such as MSI, RIM, Acer, LG, and Asus, all have tablet devices coming up by end 2010 or early 2011.
There were plenty of new phones launched this year, from Nokia's claim to the smartphone crown with the photo-happy SymbianA3-based Nokia N8, to the fast-spawning Android based Samsung Galaxy Sand its wide family. Other notable mobiles include the Apple iPhone 4, HTC Desire, BlackBerry Torch, Sony Ericsson Xperia XlO, and Motorola Milestone XT720.
Dell made its mark in the mobile handset world this year, starting with the Streak. It also previewed numerous other models, based on Android and Windows Phone 7, most of which will be releasing early 2011. Dell also tried its hands at selling rebranded ZTE phones in India, getting on the low-cost Android handset bandwagon.
HP acquired Palm earlier this year, and the industry was eager to know just what HP intended do with Palm's acclaimed proprietary mobile technology. HP kept mum for most of the year though, until it previewed the Palm Pre 2 - the successor to the successful Palm Pre, featuring a new and improved webOS2.o.
Other notable mobiles introduced include the Sony Ericsson S006, which will offer a 16.4 MP camera to users, as well as the LG L-03C phone-camera, which is a device with the form factor of a compact digital camera.
Most Windows Phone 7 phones have received good reviews, while the operating system seems to have made quite an impression with critics and masses alike. Of course, only time and continual improvement will tell if WP7 will survive in the competition-ridden smartphone world.
A lot of new hardware was introduced this year, from Super¬ AMOLED, SuperLCD, and Retina Display screens, to hardened Gorilla Glass, better cameras, and more capable mobile processors.
Processors are becoming smarter and faster, and if anything, they require power-consumption to be optimized in the face of all that performance. While 600 MHz has become the absolute minimum clock speed for a smart- phone or tablet processor, 1 GHz processors first introduced in 2010 are found in numerous devices. Right now, leading processor and chipset manufacturers are all concentrating on providing the best performance per watt, whether they use System-on-Chip designs or more conventional chip set, dual-core or single-core. Cur- rent hopefuls are the ARM -designed dual-core Cortex A9 derivatives, such as the 1 GHz Samsung Orion. QUALCOMM has also announced its dual-core Snapdragon processors, due in early 2011, running at 1.2 GHz and 1.5 GHz. The NVIDIA Tegra 2 is also finally seeing some wide-scale adoption, being chosen by LG to power its Optimus lineup of smartphones.
It's been a very tough year for RIM, losing market share to Apple, Nokia, and Android devices. RIM's latest flagship phone, the BlackBerry Torch, which features its latest OS (BlackBerry 6), has not done well in global markets, and received very lukewarm reviews. However, things might be looking up in the form of the full-featured RIM PlayBook (tablet), when it releases later this year.
What 2011 will bring
2011 promises to be even more exciting than 2010, with all those new operating systems vigorously competing in the very level playing field of the global mobile market. Windows Phone 7 in particular promises to evolve further and continually better itself, providing better security features, Xbox Live functionality, a better mobile app market, numerous new handsets, and finally, even simple copy and paste functionality, We also look forward to a whole bunch of tablets from a variety of manufacturers, big and small... Google's tablet friendly version of Android , Honeycomb, will certainly galvanize the market further.
The next generation iPad is also expected, featuring a higher resolution display, front facing camera, and a new and improved tablet -specific version of iOS4. In the Indian context, 3G is certain to bring a sea of change. All of a sudden, phones that can actually utilize the new data connections efficiently, allowing for a much better browsing experience, loads of mobile apps and value added services, more social networking and media consumption.
In terms of mobile hardware technology, we'll also see the first handsets arriving with dual core and other newer mobile processor architectures, hailing a new performance high in the mobile world, whether in the tablet, netbook, or mobile phone form factor. The Samsung Galaxy i9100S, or Google's latest Android flagship, the Nexus S, seems like it will be first such device, featuring Samsung’s dual-core Cortex A9-based Orion processor.
On the software front, augmented reality will continue to grow; and as we all become more connected with 3G and 4G services, you can expect a whole world set alongside reality, providing you with information as and when you need it. Numerous developers are getting their hands dirty in this field, with the most notable being Google, with its Google Street View technology and connected search features.
All in all, 2011 sure looks like it will be an exciting time to be alive, if technology on the go is your thing.