In 2010, we saw a number of “outsiders” take their places as some of the most powerful players in the mobile space. For 2011, we will likely continue to see unexpected companies emerge across a wide variety of mobile segments, from app developers to infrastructure vendors to software companies hoping to ease the strain on mobile networks. Here are a few of the companies I’ll be watching next year:
Microsoft. No company will be under more scrutiny in mobile next year than Microsoft, which a few weeks ago officially launched Windows Phone after abandoning Windows Mobile. The new platform has drawn some rave reviews, with Gizmodo exclaiming that “we have ourselves a race.” But while Microsoft has yet to disclose any figures, it appears that Windows Phone sales have stumbled out of the gate: Only 40,000 supporting devices were reportedly sold the first day amid reports of product shortages and indifferent retailers. One U.K. vendor recently said Android phones were outselling Windows Phone devices 15 to one. Microsoft’s future in mobile hinges on Windows Phone, and the company has the deep pockets to back the OS for some time to come. So it will need to continue to invest heavily to market Windows Phone, and it must aggressively woo developers and build out its app portfolio. Also, because Microsoft has chosen to center Windows Phone on gaming — a move I believe was a mistake — the emergence of a game-centric phone running the OS would help. Windows Phone won’t take off next year, but Microsoft isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Jasper Wireless. While the world of M2M services remains largely invisible, Jasper Wireless is building the foundation for a bright future. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has struck deals to power M2M services for a host of carriers including AT&T, Rogers Wireless (in Canada), America Movil (in North, Central and South America) and the Dutch operator KPN. The company has raised about $67 million since 2006. So while the M2M space will undergo some serious growing pains as new alliances are forged and new business models developed, Jasper is very well positioned to play a key role as connectivity moves beyond phones and to a host of different devices.
Amazon. Amazon’s presence in mobile has pretty much been limited to selling handsets through its massively popular online storefront. That will change as the cloud grows and as we increasingly access it through our handsets. Amazon Web Services already enables more than half of the top 10 Facebook apps, according to a recent Forbes piece. It’s those kinds of cloud-based apps, which combine gaming with social networking, are ideal for mobile use and enable consumers to engage with others wherever they go. And the cloud allows developers of gaming and social networking apps to build and scale their offerings without the hefty investment needed for their own infrastructure. Amazon recently released SDKs that will help Android and iOS developers use Amazon Web Services in their mobile apps. The evolution of the cloud will play a huge role in mobile next year (and beyond), and Amazon will be a driving force.
Appcelerator. The mobile world is an astoundingly fragmented place for developers, offering a half-dozen viable platforms for development and a countless number of devices. Appcelerator is a Silicon Valley-based outfit that markets Titanium, an open source rich-Internet application (RPI) runtime and integrated development environment. The platform helps developers use standard web technologies to build versions of their wares across devices and platforms. Appcelerator plays in a competitive space that will be crucial as the use of smartphone apps ramps up and as the line between the computer and the phone continues to blur. The company earlier this year earned a nod from Gartner, and it raised more than $15 million funding. So it’s ready for battle.
News Corp. Some onlookers — and many hopeful journalists — view the iPad as a potential digital redeemer, providing a new path to revenues for a print media industry brutalized by the rise of the Internet. News Corp. is among the first into the iPad breach, launching a Wall Street Journal subscription app for $18 a month and following that with an offering for Android tablets. A handful of others have followed, and next year will surely see some high-profile media outlets also try to sell subscriptions to their content on tablets. The Journal is also preparing to launch the Daily, a tablet-only virtual newspaper selling for $1 a week. If the Journal — which, of course, caters to the business types who generally can afford a digital subscription — can build a viable business in tablet-based content, it will be a very good sign for the print industry at large. But if News Corp. can’t make a go of it, the question will be who can?