The mobile industry saw several key trends continue during the final three months of an eventful 2010: Smartphone sales soared again, use of the high-powered devices predictably fueled increases in mobile data consumption and the epic battle of Apple vs. Google escalated thanks to Android’s remarkable traction and the iPad’s white-hot sales. Indeed, the fourth quarter may be remembered as the period when Android replaced iOS as the most important platform in the minds of mobile developers. And while Microsoft has yet to disclose any meaningful sales figures for Windows Phone, it appears that the debut of the long-awaited OS was a lackluster one.
Meanwhile, network operators scrambled to outpace their counterparts as the industry continued moving beyond 3G and toward the world of 4G. Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS flipped the switch on LTE in their first markets, Sprint continued to build out its WiMAX network with partner Clearwire and AT&T and T-Mobile USA gambled that HSPA+ could provide a smoother path to 4G. Also, Wi-Fi usage ramped up as carriers looked to ease network congestion, even as they pushed more data out to smartphone-touting users. But that data usage — specifically, the consumption of smartphone apps that are rapidly gaining popularity — is already resulting in the kind of controversy that will continue to plague the industry.
The fourth quarter also saw some unexpected developments. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab enjoyed relatively successful sales, underscoring respectable (if not dramatic) consumer demand for a 7-inch tablet and signaling a tablet market that could support a variety of devices beyond the iPad. And the buzz surrounding near field communication (NFC)-based mobile payments grew tremendously in recent weeks thanks to a new partnership featuring three of the top four carriers and interest in the space from Apple, Google and others. NFC has long failed to gain any traction in North America, but support from so many heavy hitters could finally move the needle for the technology.