Smartphones are moving from a high-end luxury to a billion-unit-a-year business. Yet one of the fascinating things about the industry right now is just how many companies are in serious trouble, and how many things are totally uncertain. We could easily see a major handset brand get bought or just disappear in the next 12 months, but every single handset company faces fundamental and often existential questions:
- Will Apple make a cheaper phone, moving below $600 new? How would it do it? (How) would it maintain segmentation? Would that be a $300 phone? A $100 phone?
- Will Microsoft make its own phone? Will Windows Phone finally get any traction?
- What happens to Nokia if Windows Phone gets no traction? What if it does? Does Microsoft buy it?
- What is the future of Nokia's featurephone business? How big will Asha be?
- How much longer will RIM survive? Who will buy the wreckage?
- What happens to the struggling Android OEMs, HTC, LG and Sony? Is there an M&A roll-up here?
- What is Google going to do with Motorola? Shut it down? Break it up? Let it carry on running into the ground? Or give up on the firewall?
- Is Google's whole approach to Android sustainable? Will it move more towards Nexus handsets, or does that remain just a low-volume showcase?
- Is Samsung's leading position sustainable?
- Will the Chinese move up-market and become major consumer players in the West?
- Will the Chinese try to buy a non-Chinese OEM? RIM? HTC? Would they be allowed to?
- What is the future of the subsidy model? Will operators (and consumers) move decisively away from them? What would have to change to do that?
- (late addition) Will Samsung remain committed to Android, refocus on Windows Phone, fork Android or all of the above?
- (late addition) Will Amazon make a 'Fire Phone'?
- (late addition) Will Apple's monopoly of the high-end ($600+) phone market continue, or will Android/Windows Phone improve to the point they can take it on head-to-head?
- (late addition) Will Intel become relevant in mobile? Would it do a big acquisition? Panic and buy an Android OEM?
I have pretty considered opinions about most of these - but there are no clear answers to any of them. Massive amounts could change, quite easily, in the next year to two.