Mobile's Biggest Losers In 2012

The last twelve months have been turbulent for smartphone makers and wireless network providers. Here's who took it on the chin hardest.
Apple One Year After Steve Jobs: Hits And Misses
Apple One Year After Steve Jobs: Hits And Misses
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The ongoing war for mobile supremacy saw some serious casualties in 2012. Apple and Samsung dominated the industry with their smartphones and tablets, while other players, such as HTC and Sony, struggled to remain relevant. The strongest players got stronger and the weaker players got weaker. Two companies owned most of the profits and most of the mindshare throughout 2012, just as InformationWeek predicted a year ago.

Here's where the chips stand in the smartphone and tablet industries as we close out 2012 and head into 2013. These are the companies that struggled the hardest but didn't get very far. These are the mobile losers of 2012.

HTC. HTC developed some of its best handsets this year, but that didn't help reverse the smartphone maker's sagging fortunes. It has seen nearly two straight years of decline, and 2012 wasn't the turnaround year the company hoped it would be. In late 2011, HTC announced that it would skip the low-end market and focus on high-end smartphones. It thought this strategy would work. It didn't. The HTC One series were well-received by reviewers, but not by consumers. HTC didn't sell enough of them. At the end of the third quarter, HTC held onto just 4% of the smartphone market, falling behind ZTE. And let's not even talk about tablets; the company didn't release any new ones in 2012.

[ Will Google thrive in 2013? Read Google In 2013: 11 Predictions. ]

Motorola. Google may have closed its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola in May, but the deal has done little (so far) to help turn Motorola's handset business around. Google recently sold off a number of Motorola manufacturing facilities and closed down a major research and design facility in Korea. The company introduced just a few new models this year, most of them sold by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Though the company is still designing smartphones in Chicago, the future of its smartphone division is anything but clear. Google said it is committed to helping Motorola produce the best smartphones it can, but the results of those efforts likely won't be seen until midway through 2013. Motorola still sells some Android tablets, but they are the same models introduced at the end of 2011 (Xyboard 8.9 and Xyboard 10.1).

Sony. As with HTC and Motorola, Sony concentrated on making fewer devices this year. Most of them ranged at the top end of the smartphone spectrum rather than the low end. Its efforts have not been rewarded. The Xperia Ion in particular was a disaster of a product, beset by bugs and other problems. None of the devices it has brought to the U.S. market this year helped turn its fortunes around. It remains committed to making Android smartphones, but its thin range of devices isn't strong enough to fend off Samsung. Sony delivered two tablets to the market earlier this year, but they failed to gain any traction.

Acer and Lenovo. Plenty of hardware makers jumped into the Android tablet fray this year, but few of them made any progress. Perhaps the two companies that tried the hardest to compete with the big boys were Acer and Lenovo. There's no doubt the companies offered some decent products this year, but they were trumped by another low-cost supplier that won Google's favor: Asus. As far as low-cost, seven-inch tablets go, the Nexus 7, made by Asus, is the hands-down winner. Acer and Lenovo's efforts fell flat in comparison. When you consider the Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy-branded tablets that are available, in addition to consumer-friendly low-cost options from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, companies such as Acer and Lenovo fall by the wayside.

RIM. RIM had a rough year. More than one million users defected from the BlackBerry platform during RIM's most recent quarter. RIM has hemorrhaged customers for close to two years. It has shed thousands of workers and lost gobs of money. But I don't think it quite qualifies for the "biggest loser" list. Here's why: The company has managed to keep itself afloat. At the beginning of 2012, things were looking grim. The co-CEOs who founded the company were running RIM into the ground. It had no new smartphones, its next-gen platform was delayed for a year, and no one had any expectation that the company could turn itself around. The situation was dire.

Then came new CEO Thorsten Heins, who took the helm in January. He has been incredibly successful at giving RIM some positive momentum headed into 2013. RIM is clearly down, but not out. There's no doubt that the company buckled down this year and worked its collective rear end off in order to finish work on BlackBerry 10. With BlackBerry 10 on the cusp of availability, RIM is closing out 2012 headed in the right direction.

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