If the first decade of the 21st century has been, consumer-wise, the decade of the cell phone, then it seems as though the next one when it kicks off in three months’ time will be very much the decade of the smart phone. As technology’s march grows ever more expansive and faster, the phones in the hands of the current generation are getting to the point where they are set to be far more diverse in what they can do than the average home PC. For many reasons – including marketing and timing – potential buyers seem far more likely to buy certain phones than others, even where the tech specifications do not differ hugely.
This is the conundrum that Palm are dealing with at present. Having just revealed results which were better than expected but joined those with predictions and forecasts which are worse than hoped, Palm needs to hope that sales of its “Pre” smart phone will be better than forecast. This is complicated by the ubiquity of Apple’s iPhone and the “daddy” of the smart phone set, RIM’s Blackberry. A lot of things need to come together to ensure the success of a smart phone platform, including the necessity that it be either better or different than an existing platform, and that it is promoted with the requisite level of enthusiasm and cleverness.
The Palm Pre certainly has not gone as well as Palm might have hoped, but it has done better than expected. Although short of a million shipped, the numbers were far from a total disaster, stacking up at 823,000 in its first quarter. The feel is, though, that the level of demand is sloping off, and with Palm set to launch the smaller Pixi device soon there may be a quiet burial in store for the Pre in time.
The decade which is presently ending has been a very fast-moving one, with the capacity for mobile-web synchronicity coming along quicker than perhaps anyone had expected. This has led to companies like Google, who in their first few years were known purely for their search engine, becoming big hitters in other sectors, including a development into the mobile web sector which has seen them work very strongly with cell phone giants Nokia. In the coming few years we may well see the amount of choice in the cell phone industry diversify still further, with Google moving independently towards either their devices or wider applications.
Looking at the future of the smart phones industry, the one thing that seems reliably predictable is that the breadth of choice will diversify still further and lead to more people buying more phones from more companies. Those companies who can develop without a major outlay, through already having the soundest infrastructure, will be the most likely winners in the years to come. Big hitters like Nokia and Apple would seem to have a strong position, but it could be that the next big thing is something we have yet to predict. As an investor, it’s time for you to look for opportunities to invest in these cell phone companies which are predicted to make it big: Apply, Blackberry and Google.
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