The days of “CrackBerry” addiction, and of Nokia‘s dominance of the mobile phone market, are long over. A report by IDC shows over half of the worldwide smartphone market is now controlled by just two companies, Apple and Samsung, both of which have been rapidly gaining marketshare at the expense of rivals like HTC and LG. Apple’s iPhone now makes up almost 10 percent of all mobile phones sold in the world, period — not just smartphones — while Samsung’s product line accounts for nearly a quarter.
The companies aren’t just at each other’s throats in the marketplace. Apple and Samsung have been involved in patent lawsuits since 2010, when Apple accused Samsung of copying its designs. Since then, both companies’ products have been temporarily banned in various countries, while Apple has taken the time to explain how to make a tablet it doesn’t consider to be an iPad clone. But a U.S. district judge has ordered them to begin settlement talks, according to Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents, which might soon end the rivals’ court battle as they continue to war in the marketplace.
What will happen if the patent lawsuits are settled?
That smartphone and tablet buyers will notice? First, Apple and Samsung might stop getting injunctions against each others’ products in countries like Germany and Australia, and the threat of an injunction in the U.S. might end. And second, Samsung might begin making tablets that look more unique and less like the iPad, possibly including its S-Pen technology introduced on the Galaxy Note.
What happened to Apple and Samsung’s competitors?
RIM and Nokia together owned much of the smartphone market before the iPhone came out. But in the years since then, most of their rivals adopted Google‘s open-source Android operating system, allowing them to make smartphones much like the iPhone (sometimes too much, according to Apple). RIM has been slow to adopt a more modern OS, and recently retrofitted its PlayBook tablet with the ability to run certain Android apps; while Nokia abandoned its aging Symbian and experimental Meego OSes in favor of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. Neither company’s products have been able to halt their declines, however.
What about all the Android competitors?
Just being able to make iPhone-style smartphones didn’t guarantee HTC, LG, Sony or Motorola success. Margins are extremely slim for most smartphones; the iPhone is still the only real exception, with over half of its unsubsidized purchase price going towards profit. Motorola actually lost money on smartphones last year, while HTC’s marketshare shrunk and Sony has been struggling to remain relevant. Meanwhile, Samsung has made two of Google’s flagship Nexus smartphones in a row, and its Galaxy S II has become the closest thing to a “name-brand” Android phone, with the S III rumored to be close to launch.
With Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, however, many Android smartphone companies are looking towards making their own operating systems. Samsung is currently working on an open-source OS called Tizen, along with other companies like Intel. No Tizen phones have been released yet in the United States, however.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.