If Apple waits until the fall, it will cede operator support to Samsung, and enter the 4G space when prices have already fallen significantly. Its brand power has compensated for technical mediocrity in the past, but its impact will reduce as the market shifts to 4G and Asian vendors.
The first clutch of financial results from the handset makers, and their launches at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, carried hints of the smartphone market pattern to come this year. The big tussle, of course, will be between Samsung and Apple, but much of of the latter's outcome will depend on how quickly it gets into the LTE market, which has evolved far more rapidly than expected from the territory of a few cutting edge curiosities to a mainstream sector where prices are already falling. At least WP7 did get into the LTE game at CES, notably with Nokia's high profile attempt to win US customers at last.
Whether it succeeds will be an important factor in whether, by 2013, the Finnish giant is back in contention, or whether – as Samsung said this week – it will have lost its crown irrevocably to its Korean challenger.
Beyond the three giants, the other players will also be struggling to hold onto their positions – LG, HTC and Motorola Mobility are expected to report disappointing holiday quarters, and the latter will have a major transition to make once it becomes Google property, as will Sony Ericsson as it loses the “Ericsson” element of its ownership and brand. And coming up beneath all these established contenders for the LTE smartphone space are ZTE and Huawei, the latter using CES to launch its bid for smartphone relevance.
Samsung started the year in buoyant mood, with CEO Choi Gee-sung predicting the firm would ship more handsets this year than Nokia, ending the Finn's 14-year run in the lead. Choi said Samsung had already overtaken its archrival in handset revenue terms in the last quarter of 2011, because of its greater success in smartphones, and would achieve the same in unit volumes in 2012.