It’s been a quiet week in the smartphone wars. The three most interesting developments are (a) stock analysts have begun hanging crepe for RIM’s funeral, (b) HP has priced its WebOS tablet to die, and (c) the iPhone 5 is now not expected in September, being constrained by iOS 5’s ship date.
RIM’s stock price has been badly hammered in recent weeks by plummeting market share and the failure of the Playbook launch. Layoffs have been announced. Typical coverage these days asks whether RIM can survive. Takeover talk has begun, with Dell and Microsoft mentioned as possible buyers. App developers are bailing out.
For months I thought there was a strong possibility that RIM would soft-land in a defensible market niche around its business customers. But the last quarter has been blunder after blunder; RIM simply is not behaving like a company with the capability to pull out of a death spiral. I’d say we’re about seven months plus or minus two from a crash or buyout.
HP’s WebOS-based TouchPad tablet is out, and Jason Perlow is devastating about the problem with it, repeating a theme I’ve been sounding here for months. The TouchPad, and all of the iPad’s other competitors, are priced to sink like stones. Product planners all over the industry are living in a ludicrous fantasy if they think they can compete with the iPad at the iPad’s price point; Apple’s brand strength makes this suicidal. They need to cut margins and prices until it hurts, and then cut a bit more, to get traction. HP is not doing this and consequently HP will fail.
But Apple has troubles of its own. Word is that the iPhone 5 won’t ship in September because iOS 5 won’t be ready by then. On Apple’s hints about the iOS 5 release date, the iPhone 5 could be delayed as late as November. And it’s not going to be a full update, either, just a processor and camera upgrade; some rumors have it being branded as the ‘4S’, with ‘5’ reserved for a major upgrade in 2012.
Apple’s problem is that the new iPhone, 4S or 5, is going to be facing brutal competition from upcoming Androids like the Samsung Galaxy S 2, HTC Sensation, EVO 3D, and the rumored Nexus 4G. All these phones will be offering 4G, display technology fully as good as the Apple “retina screen” and probably faster processors.
A weak iPhone upgrade simply won’t fare well against these phones. Falling behind in 4G/LTE support is particularly likely to lose Apple high-end sales. And a poor 2011 Christmas season could completely finish off the iPhone’s chances of regaining lost ground.