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Welcome to the Mobile World of 2015

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Hello there, 2011. I kind of miss you as I'm sitting here in 2015 to chronicle the state of the mobile industry. No, I won't tell you who won the World Series or the Super Bowl, and you can't borrow my wristwatch time machine. Sorry, bud. Let's talk business.

In 2011, all eyes were on the proposed megamerger between AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA. If successful, that would have led down a dark path where lesser lights simply had to join forces with one of the two nationwide giants to stay competitive. Luckily, the FCC saw thw specter of Ma Bell, Reformed, from a mile away. The deal was scuttled after months of legal and regulatory wrangling.

Instead, T-Mobile merged with Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) in 2013 and started buying up local and regional operators. So what we have now is a triumvirate of fairly equal service providers, finally offering true 4G services with gigabit stationary connections and up to 100 megabits on the move.

Three-way competition on the most even playing field in mobile-service history has combined with advancements in technology to ensure fair prices and an end to data caps. The Big Three compete on prices and features, not on lock-in and traditions. Consumers are winning this war.

The platform wars
These days, the choice of mobile operating systems is pretty simple: They're all really good. The choice between the Big Three -- Android, iOS, or Windows -- is just a matter or personal taste or brand preference, because they all worked the kinks out over the years and became pretty much interchangeable.

You'll notice a few missing names. Palm's WebOS is now exclusive to Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) printers and calculators, long gone from the phone market. The BlackBerry is still around, but in 2015 it plays the role of a beeper in 2011 -- a quaintly outdated business tool. Various flavors of Linux have come and gone like visions in the night, led by Richard Branson's Virgin Mobile, but not even a hard-coded Tubular Bells ringtone could make them stick. So the big names are still familiar.

The handsets
And that brings us to the real surprises. If you thought the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone was a huge upgrade over the Motorola RAZR in 2006, you ain't seen nothing yet. Stuffy old smartphones like the classic iPhone have become the feature phones of 2015.

From 2006 to 2012, smartphones didn't see a whole lot of innovation. Each year, you'd take the iPhone (or iPhone lookalike) you had before, add a couple of nifty features, and call it a day. None of that was very exciting.

But then three things happened back-to-back in 2013, transforming how we think about mobile phones:

  • Seiko Epson commercialized OLED printing equipment in one of those overnight revolutions that really took a decade or more. Suddenly, those beautiful, ultra-thin screens were everywhere -- and they were no longer much of a selling point because everybody was doing it.
  • Three months later, Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN  ) , Toshiba, and Microvision (Nasdaq: MVIS  ) started a price war as their pico projector technologies became commercially viable. With the display projected onto any surface, smartphones appeared in outrageous shapes such as headsets, wristwatches, and obsidian cubes straight out of 2001 (the movie, not the year).
  • Unwilling to give up their moment of glory, Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) and its OLED allies responded with a rush of oddly shaped displays of their own: roll-up magic wands, fold-out credit cards, soft wristbands, and more.

Now you have a choice between the ultra-mobility of projectors and the higher picture quality of OLED, and the phone has become even more of a personal expression. Whip out a 4-inch candy-bar phone if you want to -- the battery life on those things is still the best -- but you won't impress anybody that way. You wouldn't believe the brand-new iPhone '15 I'm using to dictate this postcard!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the not-too-distant future. The changes ahead of you are dramatic and exciting, and their instigators are an intriguing mix of old names and new. From new form factors to truly torrential data connections, there's something here for everybody to enjoy.

One of the big winners never really made it to the mainstream. A big name behind the scenes of the broadband revolution, the Fool pegged this company as the best stock for 2011. This is the closest I'll get to handing you bookie fodder from the gridiron or the baseball diamond -- you should read that free report right now and take its lessons to heart. Like I said, that report is 100% free -- what are you waiting for?

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Texas Instruments and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Universal Display, and AT&T and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and our Foolish disclosure policy is convinced that this era can't be all that interesting because we're not flooded by curious time travelers from the future.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2011, at 12:44 PM, iParadigm2watch wrote:

    Oh phoo! You could have prognosticated the "big three" are now under threat for their very existence; now that Apple has 500 million plus iOS devices out in the world. And guess what?

    They all can now connect to each other!

    Without a carrier! :-)

    Panic ensues! The FCC really does have a Cow!


    Now. There is a 2015-16 Q3 prediction!

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2011, at 7:45 PM, mankstar77 wrote:

    Microvision (MVIS) laser PicoP is where it's at. Always in focus and will be 720HD coming to a mobile phone near you.

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2011, at 4:56 AM, chaz572 wrote:

    Sadly, I fear you give the FCC too much credit, and big telecom lobbyists and their pocket Republicans too little. I pray daily to be proven wrong on that one, but if I were to bet money on it, I'd bet it goes through.

    I don't see what T-Mobile and Sprint can do for each other. All their customers would have to have dual-standard phones to derive any benefit from the two networks logically merging, which is a big cost no-no that typically only world travelers are willing to pony up for.

    BTW, Android *is* Linux. Just packaged nicely for a phone.

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