Five things to expect from the mobile industry in 2011

Jan 3, 2011
Finance

There are a few developments in the mobile space that are pretty clearly going to happen in 2011. Verizon (VZ) will most likely offer the iPhone, Apple (AAPL) will unveil a new iPad, and people will continue to waste unbelievable amounts of time playing games like Fruit Ninja. Here, though, are five things to watch […]

There are a few developments in the mobile space that are pretty clearly going to happen in 2011. Verizon (VZ) will most likely offer the iPhone, Apple (AAPL) will unveil a new iPad, and people will continue to waste unbelievable amounts of time playing games like Fruit Ninja.

Here, though, are five things to watch for in 2011 that might be a little more surprising.

Mobile will settle into a duopoly

By the time 2011 is over, the mobile platform competition in the U.S. will look like this: Google’s (GOOG) Android, Apple’s iOS… and everyone else.

Through the third quarter of 2010, Android shot to more than 25 percent of the smart device market, up from about 3 percent a year before. Most of that gain was at the expense of BlackBerry (RIMM), Windows (MSFT) and Palm, while Apple’s share held fairly steady at around 17%. Momentum is clearly on the side of Android and Apple, and developers are increasingly making apps for both first and leaving the others for later.

Microsoft in 2011 will continue to navigate the mobile space like a rhino in a rowboat, getting nowhere and sinking a little more each day. Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) brave attempt to make Palm’s WebOS relevant will have as much impact as attempts to revive roller derby. BlackBerry is entrenched in a lot of companies and the U.S. federal government, but users continue to press for the broader features of Apple and Android phones.

Like the PC market before it, mobile devices will quickly go from a plethora of platforms to two that matter and a bunch of others at the fringes.

Tablets will pause before exploding

In 2010, the iPad got a rocket boost from wealthy early adopters who could part with $600 for a device that was mostly for fun. But, obviously, that market has its limits – and the current version of the iPad is going to reach them in the first months of 2011.

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Two things have to happen for tablets to become a mass-market success: they have to get a lot cheaper, and there has to be viable alternatives to Apple. Neither are likely to happen in the first half of 2011.

At the Consumer Electronics Show this month, Motorola (MOT) is expected to unveil an iPad competitor, and a slew of other companies will be either showing or talking about tablets. From the looks of this first generation so far, none will be good enough to excite consumers or make a dent in iPad’s market share. And if Apple doesn’t have serious competition, it won’t have much reason to aggressively drop iPad’s price.

By late-2011, that could all be different. Second-generation tablets could by then be good enough and cheap enough to push tablets into the mass market.

500,000 apps and nothing on

Apple’s App Store is nearing 350,000 apps, and more than 25,000 apps get submitted each month. The App Store will no doubt surpass 500,000 apps in 2011. Android has about 150,000 apps, and that number is growing even more rapidly than Apple’s.

But, how many of those apps really matter? How many are pushing the capabilities of apps forward? Like cable TV, the app stores offer a handful of original, solid offerings surrounded by a confusing mess of copycat, pedestrian time-sucks. Dive not too far into the stores and you find stuff like Airhorn and PickYourNose. These are not doing a lot to make the world a better place.

We’ve already found the apps that really make life different – Pandora Radio, GPS-based maps, Groupon, Foursquare. The challenge for app developers in 2011 is to move past that and come up with apps that take mobile to the next level.

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Private location-sharing will take off

Speaking of new kinds of apps, there is one category emerging around private versions of location-sharing apps such as Foursquare. A lot of people don’t want to broadcast to the world where they are. But broadcasting to a specific circle of people for a specific purpose takes on a whole new meaning.

One early example is Neer. It lets a family set up location sharing just among themselves. Parents can know where kids are, whether Mom got to the office, and so on. A half-dozen people on a ski vacation together could set up a Neer-type network so they can find each other après ski. If the apps are made so they’re easy to customize and turn on and off, consumers and businesses will take the concept and run with it, inventing entirely new ways to use the capability.

Mobile gadgets will, thankfully, have a common charger

It looks like 2011 will be the year when one of the great frustrations of mobile devices begins to get solved. Driven by specifications set up by the European Commission, 14 top mobile manufacturers have agreed to standardize on chargers that connect to devices via micro-USB connection. In a statement, the Commission said that “Incompatibility of chargers for mobile phones is not only a major inconvenience for users, but also a considerable environmental problem. Users who want to change their mobile phones must usually acquire a new charger and dispose of the old one, even if it is in good condition.”

Surely this will be a more significant development than the arrival of Fruit Ninja II.

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