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Phone Wars : The Empires Strike Back !

With several major smartphones launches expected in the coming month, you'd think the smartphone industry was highly competitive as all you hear everyone talking about is Apple vs. Samsung vs. Blackberry vs. Nokia vs. HTC vs. Sony Mobile vs. LG vs. Huawei vs. whichever brand you can think of. The reality of the situation is that it is and will always be, to some degree, an ecosystem battle.  In order to compete in an ecosystem battle, as a smartphone manufacturer or operating system developer, you need to ensure you actually do offer a complete ecosystem.  Sounds simple but given the way a few smartphone launches had happened in the last few months, this isn't something you can always assume. Take for example Blackberry 10.  On paper, it is an excellent operating system, supported by a wonderful piece of hardware in the Blackberry Z10 (and soon to be launched Blackberry Q10) but with a woeful set of quality Apps.  The emphasis has to be on quality and not quantity of Apps and Blackberry seems to have missed the boat here.  Apps that you take for granted such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or WhatsApp fail to offer the same quality experience on Blackberry 10 as you'd get on a typical Android or iOS powered smartphone.  Other Apps such as Instagram, Skype and the Kindle App are yet to arrive to the platform though they've been promised. With Windows Phone 8, you've got a similar problem except most Apps are available but they may not deliver on the same level of experience as you're going to get Whatsapp on iOS or Android since relatively speaking, the user base for Windows Phone 8 devices is still quite small.  With Windows Phone 8, you're restricted to what Nokia wants to give you from a handset perspective and for now the entry level segment in Nokia is served by their Asha series, which is powered by a non-Windows- based operating system.  Nokia has an excellent reputation in developing great handsets but where other operating systems like Android can offer you a whole slew of devices, Nokia (and by default Windows Phone 8) is limited to five different handsets.  There are other manufacturers who can and do make Windows Phone 8 devices but I don't think anyone has or will commit themselves to it the way Nokia has. The slow rate of adoption of Windows 8 on computers and tablets has also been a source of concern as Microsoft had probably been hoping that the success of the Windows 8 on the PC would translate to improving the equity that Windows Phone 8 would carry but rather it has been the opposite to some respects.  Nokia can and will try but essentially it is Microsoft that has to go all out in getting back the confidence of consumers and manufacturers on Windows 8.  Until this happen, they will struggle to challenge Android and iOS. With Android, we've seen various manufacturers and skins for the operating system.  Despite this being the operating system that offers the most competition in terms of hardware specs, brands and price bands, we've seen one brand more or less dominate this space in the last eighteen months.  Samsung is releasing the Galaxy S4 and this device will probably set all sorts of records as its predecessor the Samsung Galaxy S3 did even though it has got a worthy competitor in the form of the HTC One.  The HTC One is a superb device and reminds me of Nokia or Apple in terms of build quality but HTC simply doesn't have the might of Samsung when it comes to marketing budgets.  Enthusiasts who appreciate quality may opt for the HTC One but the mass market will only know the Samsung Galaxy S4.  Whatever you are to choose here, you are rest assured that they both offer the very best of what Android has to offer.  With the recent addition of a Facebook Home version of Android announced for both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, both devices offer you a choice in terms of how you can experience Android.
How is Apple going to react to all of this?  The iOS platform for Apple's iPhone is the most robust of all the mobile operating platforms and iOS enjoys the best quality as well as quantity of Apps.  The build quality of the iPhone has always been good but the problem Apple has started to face is that at any given point of time, there is only one model of the iPhone available and this limits consumers to one screen size and one set of price points (which is always been at the premium end of the market).  In a sense, buying an iPhone is like a Ford Model T back in the 1920's when Henry Ford famously said you could buy a Ford in any color as long as it was black.  What we do know is that Apple will respond this year.  What they will bring to the market, we don't know yet, and despite underwhelming most consumers with the last few product announcements, they've still gone on to sell.  Apple's ecosystem is the most complete and the only one that is always current as they've found a way of ensuring the latest version of their operating system is on most legacy devices as well.  This is where Android has struggled because even if you buy a new handset today, you don't know if in a year from now whether it will be upgradable to the most current version of operating system. Buying a smartphone today is like buying a car.  There is no one fit that suits everyone perfectly.  There are some consumers who enjoy having more than one car and there are some consumers who like swapping cars every few months.  There is at times logic that goes into buying a car and at other times, the purchase can be made on a whim.  The same is true in the smartphone business, the only difference is that you don't quite see Honda, Toyota, Porsche and BMW releasing a new flagship car within a span of three or four days as we will see at the end of this month.