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 The BlackBerry is still around, but in 2015 it plays the role of a beeper in 2011 -- a quaintly outdated business tool.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.
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?