iPhone 5 rumors notwithstanding, Mobile World Congress was Google's news event. First, CEO and soon to be executive chairman Eric Schmidt attempted to clear up the company's Android-Chrome dichotomy. All Android versions (phones are running Gingerbread, tablets will run Honeycomb) will consolidate with the next dessert-themed version the company serves up. Second, while Chrome OS is for keyboard-based devices, that, too, will find its way into some kind of integration plan, Schmidt said in his keynote Tuesday night.
For its part, Microsoft is slowly getting into the modern age. The Windows Phone 7 user experience has yet to be declared a success or failure, and an imminent release will add such mind-boggling features as "cut and paste." Later this year, Windows Phone 7 devices will be available on CDMA networks and will get a few additional makeovers, including multitasking, an enhanced Web browser that includes graphics acceleration, and cloud storage via SkyDrive, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said this week at Mobile World Congress.
RIM co-CEO Jim Ballsilie seemed unfazed by Elop's outright dismissal of his company (Elop's three-horse race clearly doesn't include the BlackBerry maker). After all, RIM's Playbook tablet is about a month from shipping, and units are appearing everywhere -- not just at trade show demos, but also in the hands of developers worldwide. The platform is sprouting new applications, from games to enterprise-class workflow (see video directly below) and business intelligence software. And RIM has ensured that carriers will be on board with announcements this week that it's supporting LTE and HSPA+ (it already announced a WiMAX version with Sprint) and integrated carrier billing.
In conversations this week, HP said its new hardware, and the fact that WebOS would run on top of Windows, has renewed developer interest. Some of the company's mobile executives noted that unlike other players (Google and RIM, one presumes), the WebOS version for the HP tablet will very quickly become the one and only WebOS for all Palm devices. It also demonstrated a secure, cloud-based remote printing service that works not only with HP handsets, but also with BlackBerry devices; not just with HP printers, but with others, too. Essentially, your phone, if you subscribe to the cloud service, can find and print to any registered printer. It won't print until you get to the printer destination and enter a special code. This sort of feature is surely an HP advantage.
What's most interesting is that outside of RIM, these companies -- HP, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Apple -- are some of the largest, most successful technology companies in the world -- companies willing to spend on product innovation and marketing and to build a developer base. None can afford to fail. Devices are constantly improving. For example, LG's Optimus 3D captures stereoscopic 3D video; Samsung's Galaxy S II includes a dual-core processor and a Super Amoled Plus display. Meantime, carrier networks are quickly adding bandwidth and HTML 5 is advancing as a mobile application model.
These are all the competitive levelers. How each mobile platform player advances its developer ecosystem could determine the early winner, as each feature advance is so quickly mimicked -- witness HP hinting that WebOS will run on clamshell-style thin client devices, right after Google began showing off Chrome OS. Surely, a handful of devices will mimic Motorola's Atrix as well.
Google's Schmidt spoke passionately in his Mobile World Congress keynote address about how the phone should include the telemetry to monitor and improve personal health. Late last year he talked about NFC and Google's evolving mobile payment ecosystem. The first to bring those life-altering mechanisms to market could also claim the throne for some time.
Apple's secrecy about new, forthcoming iPhones and iPads may build up the excitement, but Google executives seem to have learned the "vision thing" and taken a bit of the shine from Apple. If Samsung can pave the way in the enterprise, RIM's stronghold there could erode. With many lengths to go in this so-called horse race, Google looks like the front runner.
Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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