Looking back at how Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has shaped the smartphone industry over the past five years since its original launch, perhaps no two companies have taken it as badly as Nokia (Nasdaq: NOK) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM).

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Not long ago, both companies were exalted as leaders in the smartphone industry, heralding in the connected future. Research In Motion was an early pioneer of wireless email, while Nokia was one of the premier mobile-device makers in the world.

Party like it's 2010
I went back and compiled approximately seven years of operating data on the three companies to stack them up against each other, and the results paint a gloomy picture for the Finnish and Canadian companies.

Units

Sources: earnings press releases and SEC filings.

Interestingly, both companies peaked in terms of unit sales or shipments well after the iPhone was introduced, so it took some time before they would each begin to see unit sales begin to precipitously plunge.

Research In Motion reports its figures as shipments, which is not necessarily sales, so keep that in mind. Its shipments peaked at 14.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, while Nokia's overall smartphone sales topped out at 28.3 million in the exact same quarter. Up until that point, both companies were still enjoying rising unit sales.

There are a few possible key factors to why their parties ended in 2010. Apple introduced the iPhone 4, which was one of the product's more significant upgrades to date, featuring the redesigned case made out of glass and stainless steel. This was also the year that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android really began to take off. While the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, dates back as early as 2008, it took a few years before Android adoption would begin skyrocketing. It's also worth noting that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took the reins in 2010.

RIM's unit shipments have now fallen back to levels not seen since the first quarter of 2009; Nokia's are back where they were in the first quarter of 2007.

Dollars and sense
Looking at revenue figures is even more jolting, mostly because Apple fetches dramatically higher average selling prices, or ASPs, compared with its rivals. Note that Nokia only began breaking out smartphone revenue separately in 2009 and reports in euros, so it has limited data available and I've translated its figures based on current exchange rates instead of historical ones. Also, RIM's hardware revenue includes PlayBook sales, but the vast majority remains BlackBerry smartphones, while Apple's line represents iPhone sales alone.

Rev

Sources: earnings press releases and SEC filings.

Research In Motion also stopped reporting its specific ASPs but was last pegged at $315 in the fourth calendar quarter of 2010, unchanged from a year prior but lower than the ASPs around $380 in 2005 and 2006. Last quarter, Apple posted iPhone ASP of $647 and Nokia's smartphone ASP was $181.

Company Apple Research In Motion Nokia
Average Selling Prices $647 (Q1 2012) $315 (Q4 2010) $181 (Q1 2012)

Sources: earnings press releases and SEC filings.

Even though RIM's figure is outdated, you still get an idea of its approximate ballpark. Apple's iPhone business was able to surpass RIM's BlackBerry business in terms of revenue back in 2008, in its sixth quarter, even though it would take two more years to beat it in unit terms.

Countdown to oblivion
In recent years, both Nokia and RIM have seen management shakeups at the upper echelons of each company in the hopes of turning the tide. Nokia tapped ex-Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) exec Elop to run the show and is now betting the farm on Windows Phone. RIM handed the keys over to COO Thorsten Heins, but the deck has always been stacked against him.

When he became CEO in January, I likened it to "a car barreling full speed toward a cliff, when the two drunk drivers sitting in each other's laps at the wheel decide to jettison themselves, leaving the guy that's riding shotgun to hastily scoot over and inherit the doom." Ex-co-CEOs and co-Chairmen Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis didn't leave him with much of a fighting chance.

The iPhone's growth has been mind-boggling. The crazy thing is, Apple still has more room to run. Learn exactly what Apple's opportunity is, as well as the impediments to getting there, in our brand-new premium Apple research service. Of course, it wasn't just Apple alone that toppled these once-mighty empires. Cupertino certainly played no small role, but combined with Android's rise and the failure to innovate and adapt, a happy ending is now out of the question for both Nokia and Research In Motion.

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