In the smartphone market, Apple and Samsung have become the two giants. Is there room for a third?
Motorola Mobility and Nokia, two laggards in the mobile race, better hope so.
Both companies held events on Wednesday in New York to unveil their latest smartphones, just one week before Apple is scheduled to introduce its next iPhone. Much depends on the success of those phones, as Nokia and Motorola’s shares of the phone market continue to slide while sales of Apple and Samsung devices soar.
Combined, Samsung and Apple account for about 50 percent of the global smartphone market, with Samsung in the lead, according to estimates by Gartner, the research firm. Other phone-makers are so far behind that there is essentially no relevant third player. Research In Motion, a potential contender for that spot, has said its new line of BlackBerry devices will not be ready until next year.
Samsung and Apple are the only companies shipping lots of phones to retailers and making money, said Jan Dawson, a mobile analyst at Ovum, a research firm. “Nobody is really No. 3 because nobody else is shipping and profitable.”
At its event, Motorola unveiled three smartphones under its Razr brand that will be sold to Verizon customers. It said the focus of the phones was speed, because they connected to Verizon’s faster fourth-generation network. And they have larger screens than their primary rival, the iPhone.
These were the first new phones that Motorola has introduced since it was bought by Google, which announced the acquisition last year and closed the transaction in May. The companies remained mum about their plans until last month, when Motorola announced that it was laying off 4,000 employees, the start of a revamping under its new owner.
A Google executive, Dennis Woodside, is Motorola’s new leader. In an interview on Tuesday, Woodside said that the union of the two companies would spur mobile innovation. But Woodside, sharp and energetic, was careful not to overstate his goal for Motorola. He does not expect it to become a giant overnight.
“We want to be pushing the limits of what Android can do,” he said, referring to Google’s popular operating software for phones. He said that the plan for Motorola was to build excellent products that took advantage of its engineering heritage. “It doesn’t need to be the biggest player, but it can be one that’s truly leading in leaps and bounds in generations and generations of devices,” he said.
The new phones – the Droid Razr HD, Droid Razr M and Droid Razr Maxx HD – have a crucial component that reflects Motorola’s legacy as a radio company: the Motorola-made cellular modems inside them, which connect with newer, faster fourth-generation LTE networks.
And because Motorola helped develop this radio technology, the company knows how to design 4G LTE phones with long battery life, said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president for product management at Motorola, in an interview. The Droid Razr HD, for example, has a 4.7-inch screen with 16 hours of talk time, twice as long as many similar phones, according to Motorola.
The phones all use Android, raising questions about whether Motorola will become a legal target for Apple, which recently won a court victory against Samsung in one of many patent disputes related to smartphones. Apple accused Samsung of copying several aspects of the iPhone with its Android phones.
Woodside said he was confident that Motorola would not face similar problems. “We’ve always been pushing the envelope of technology,” he said. “It’s not a culture that copies things.”
Nokia has chosen a different and perhaps riskier route than the makers of Android phones, forming a close partnership with Microsoft and building that company’s Windows Phone software into its smartphones. The partners have not gotten much traction in the market lately, but they are hoping for another chance.
On Wednesday the two companies showed the Lumia 920, a smartphone that includes Nokia’s PureView camera technology and the ability to charge the phone by placing it on a special mat. Nokia also briefly introduced the Lumia 820, a midprice smartphone with exchangeable covers. The phones run Windows Phone 8, the latest version of the software.
“This is the most innovative smartphone in the world,” said Jo Harlow, Nokia’s executive vice president. She said the Lumia 920 took better pictures and video, especially in low light, than any other phone camera, and that it would offer access to Nokia’s mapping database, which provides maps for 200 countries.
Nokia, which is based in Finland, has been trying hard to gain a foothold in the smartphone market with its Windows-powered Lumia line. It sought to make a splash this year with the Lumia 900 on AT&T, aggressively priced at $100 and backed with an enormous promotional campaign, but sales were lackluster.
Investors seemed unhappy with the announcements. Nokia’s American shares dropped 16 percent. But some analysts were optimistic that the Lumia 920 would grab the attention of phone buyers.
Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, said offering features like the ability to wirelessly charge the device would only help Nokia, as long as the phone is cleverly marketed and priced competitively enough. But Nokia did not say how much the phones would cost or when and where they would be available.
“The most pressing question is whether Nokia can get its magic back, whether it can be a viable third leg in the smartphone world and it remains to be seen,” Golvin said.