The Smartphone Wars: Short Takes

No grand unifying theme in this installment of our smartphone-wars coverage, but a bunch of short takes.

From Google, muted and conflicting signals about the future of Motorola. I still think journalistic talk of the company trying to run a vertically integrated mobile business a la Apple is hogwash brought on by Jobs-worship, as attempting this would run directly counter to the grand strategy Google has been tenaciously pursuing since 2008. What they will do with the acquisition remains unclear. One patent-law consultant claims Google has blundered and the Motorola patents are a pile of junk, but I think skepticism about that report is warranted – failing in technical due diligence on this issue before the purchase would have been a quite un-Google-like mistake. Most likely Google’s leadership is still wrestling with possibilities.

Hewlett-Packard says it is exploring ways to get money out of WebOS other than consumer mobile devices, and there is informed speculation that the TouchPad was sacrificed as an internal political maneuver. I agree that talk of a TouchPad resurrection is wishful thinking, and that there has been plenty of incompetence to go around at HP lately.

The July 2011 comScore results came out a few days ago. Android’s growth rate is on the same 2% per-month rail it has been, and still on track to break 50% U.S. market share this fall. Microsoft resumes its interrupted fall in market share, though the overall market is growing so fast that it actually gained a thimbleful of users. Apple grows a touch faster than the market, too, which it didn’t in last month’s results; this lowers the odds on near-term disruptive collapse a bit. RIM performs as expected, which is to say badly.

As I noted in a comment a few days ago, the LA Times reported that Android tablet manufacturers are getting the message from the TouchPad frenzy, with Lenovo saying it will debut a $199 tablet at the end of September. While there has been a lot of skepticism about the possibility of non-crappy tablets at that price level, parts breakdowns make it clear that the only serious blocker is the capacitative touchscreen and display assembly – and, as it turns out, multitouch on cheaper resistive touchscreens is possible. Perhaps this is what Lenovo will do.

Interestingly, the article suggests that consumer price expectations for tablets may be being bounded above by the price of e-readers ($250 range). I think this is very plausible – to non-tech-savvy consumers the distinction between a tablet and an e-reader probably isn’t very prominent. I continue to believe that skeptics are underestimating the amount of capital flowing into reducing component costs, and thus underestimating the rate at which tablet prices will fall in the near term.

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