2011 was an explosive one for the mobile industry. The industry was rife with action, growth, progress, conflict, winners, and losers. We saw the birth of the Android tablet; the rebirth of the Android, iOS, and Windows Phone platforms; the death of webOS-based phones and tablets; the failed AT&T-T-Mobile merger; and all sorts of industry records for apps, downloads, sales, and much, much more.
Here are the five biggest stories of the year.
1. Android domination. Android’s success is unparalleled. It had zero market presence three years ago, and has since ousted every major platform to become the number-one Smartphone system sold. Google revealed its best work yet in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest version of Android. Right now, Android 4.0 is available only in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but that is sure to change in 2012. Android has seeped into all sorts of devices beyond phones, including media players, tablets, watches, and more. The year 2011 belonged to Android and 2012 probably will, too.
2. AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Whether you were for it or against it, AT&T failed to acquire T-Mobile USA. The acquisition plan was first revealed in March and played out all year long, step-by-step as the process unfolded. The deal was an attempt to consolidate the second- and fourth-largest U.S. wireless carriers into a single behemoth that would have wielded enormous market power. The Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commissions, after reviewing the deal for months, decided it was a bad idea.
3. Good tablets, bad tablets, ugly tablets. During this year electronics companies introduced 50 new tablets. Few of them were successful. The tablet field started the year crowded with hopefuls, but in the end, only a few struggled to remain. The stand-outs are the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Apple iPad 2, Research In Motion PlayBook, and the HP TouchPad. The Apple iPad 2 is by far the dominant tablet player in the tablet space, selling in the tens of millions. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is a distant second. The bad news is that RIM has nearly sunk its own ship attempting to sell the bombed PlayBook. Worse, HP killed off its TouchPad tablet after it had been in the market for barely a month. Steve Jobs was right about 2011: It’s the year of the iPad 2–at least as far as tablets are concerned.
4. Four-G fight. Mobile and wireless technologies have come a long way. Right now, the wireless network operators are racing to build out their fourth-generation mobile broadband networks. This strength of their respective 4G networks will play a major role in how each of the carriers moves through 2012. Beyond the networks themselves, some of the year’s most exciting and advanced devices included 4G in one form or another.
5. iPhone 5. I know there is no iPhone 5. As Google noted in this year’s Zeitgeist, the iPhone 5–something that doesn’t exist–was the sixth-most searched item on Google this year. “Consumers and analysts alike anticipated the release of Apple’s newest Smartphone many months prior to its arrival,” said Google. “Rumored features included a larger screen, edge-to-edge glass, an 8-megapixel camera, and extensive voice controls. Many believed the phone would be called the iPhone 5.” And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, we got the iPhone 4S, an iPhone 4 with a spec bump and a talking assistant.