Once an isolated world dominated by network operators and (in a lesser sense) by their manufacturer partners, mobile is now a wide-open space where “outsiders” are some of the most powerful players in the industry. We’ll see a continuation of that trend as carriers increasingly become disintermediated in a world of app stores and the wide-open mobile web. Before jumping into the new year, however, lets take a look at some of those outsiders who ruled the mobile space in 2010 — and will likely continue growing in 2011.
Google. An easy one, yes, but Google is simply too powerful to be ignored. Android and the Android Market were considered “me too” plays following in the footsteps of Apple, but the open operating system and relatively un-policed app storefront gained tremendous momentum this year both in the U.S. and worldwide. Handset manufacturers swooned, too, with vendors like HTC and Motorola increasingly trying to put their own stamp on Android phones via user interfaces. Meanwhile, Google’s mobile search business has shown impressive growth and is expected to generate $1 billion this year. When it comes to mobile data, Google has blown open the door that was kicked ajar by …
Apple. Another player simply too dominant to leave off this list, Apple parlayed the runaway success of its iPhone with the emergence of the iPad, which thrived this year despite the lack of any evidence of a tablet market. Meanwhile, Apple joined the mobile advertising business with iAd, providing a lift to the overall space and pushing the envelope with immersive ads that stress interactivity and high-quality video. Oh, and Apple continues to generate profits that should make its competitors blush.
MetroPCS. Prepaid growth continued in 2010 as budget-conscious consumers looked for affordable alternatives to pricey service contracts. MetroPCS has ascended to dominance in the dynamic space. MetroPCS has consistently added subscribers and increased earnings, even as some of its competitors have faltered. And it has begun to leverage its position atop the prepaid world by becoming the first U.S. carrier to sell an LTE handset. As Kevin noted last month, the MetroPCS LTE experience may not satisfy experienced wireless broadband users who’ve carried top-notch devices, but at $55 a month, the operator could see some serious demand.
Foursquare. If you’ve ever checked in on your phone at a bar or an event (or event a Wal-Mart or a Starbucks) then you’re probably familiar with Foursquare. The company revolutionized the check-in concept by awarding badges and mayorships to those who frequent events and businesses, adding a game-like component to location-based social networks. Foursquare closed a $20 million round of funding earlier this year and it reached 4 million users in October. Meanwhile, a host of other players in the space (including Facebook) have copied the check-in model, opening a door for a wide variety of advertising and marketing strategies.
Huawei. A series of security concerns foiled Chinese mobile telecom gear vendor Huawei’s efforts to tap the U.S. market in 2010. But it seems the company had no problem securing deals in the rest of the world this year: It won the most commercial LTE agreements to date, according to a recent report from TeleGeography, beating out Ericsson, the largest mobile equipment vendor in the world. Huawei remains intent on breaking into the U.S., but as more carriers deploy 4G around the world, that market doesn’t seem crucial to the company’s success.