Here’s What Mobile Industry Insiders See Ahead for 2014

1/2/14Follow @curtwoodward

By now, you should know the truly big stories in the mobile sector: Samsung’s rise to challenge Apple, Microsoft finally acquiring Nokia, Google leaping into wearables, more moves toward carrier consolidation.

But if you want to get a jump start on some of the biggest trends shaping up in the mobile industry, you could do worse than perusing the annual survey from mobile consultant Chetan Sharma.

With a panel size of about 150 respondents, it’s not necessarily up to Nate Silveresque standards of polling. But with Sharma’s client list including most of the major players in the mobile industry, it’s a nice window into how a group of mobile executives and experts see their world.

Through those eyes, it appears that expectations for Samsung appear to be leveling off. While the South Korean company has quickly surged ahead as the clear leader in volume of mobile gadgets, it hasn’t challenged Apple in terms of profitability—no shock really, since that’s always been Apple’s approach to computing.

While Samsung was seen as the company with the “most successful mobile gadget” in 2013, industry insiders expect Apple to retake the lead this year by a clear margin.

Looking beyond the two leaders shows that expectations are high for a couple of companies from the Seattle area: Microsoft and Amazon.

Microsoft’s buyout of Nokia, set in motion years ago with the hiring of former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop and the Finnish company’s subsequent decision to tie its handset business to Windows, was seen as the second-biggest news in mobile last year.

For 2014, Microsoft’s resurgence was named as the sixth-biggest storyline in the industry, getting votes from about 15 percent of respondents. Sharma’s survey also predicted Microsoft would make one of the biggest mobile industry acquisitions in 2014, behind only Google and all network operators.

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To make big waves, Microsoft will have to come from way behind—the same survey names Microsoft as just the eighth-most important player in the mobile ecosystem at the year’s outset, behind Facebook and ahead of Ericsson.

Amazon, on the other hand, is already seen as a relatively important player, ranking fifth as “most important” behind Google, Apple, Samsung, and the operators. That’s a pretty interesting development, since Amazon has no smartphone yet, instead growing its mobile business on the back of the growing Kindle tablet family.

But the mythical Amazon smartphone, long rumored to be in development, is still on the industry’s radar screen. An introduction of such a device was rated the most likely to happen this year, ahead of a Sprint/T-Mobile merger and a new kind of Microsoft smartphone.

Phones and tablets aren’t expected to have the spotlight to themselves for long. Sharma’s survey predicts that connected devices, wearables, and other new types of digital gadgets will come to the forefront in 2014. Early leaders here include Google’s Glass and Nest’s connected thermostat and smoke detectors.

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Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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