The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona again
showed the dominance of Google's Android platform, although its
rivals made a better impression than they did a year ago.
As things stand, Android has half of market share, and Apple's iPhone has a quarter. The rest is shared between platforms like RIM's Blackberry, Samsung's Bada, Microsoft's Windows Phone and Nokia's Symbian.
At first the Mobile World Congress looked like an Android show, such was the supremacy of new phones using Google's operating system, but the battle is just starting.
Smartphones make up about a third of mobile phone sales, implying that seven of 10 cellphones are still of the simpler kind, representing a huge market in the short term.
Some analysts estimate that annual smartphone sales could triple by 2015 to reach 1.5 billion units.
Recent mobile phone industry history shows a large market share guarantees nothing in a high-growth sector. Only a few years ago Nokia held a comfortable two-thirds of the then-young smartphone market. Then came the iPhone, and then Android raced to the top.
In the two-year-old tablet computer market, Apple's iPad continues to dominate, while the many Android devices that are available and Amazon's simple Kindle Fire still leave customers cold.
The most significant challenge to the current world order came from former champions turned underdogs, Nokia and Microsoft.
By offering a smartphone for less than 200 euros (266 dollars), the Finnish firm promised to put up a fight in developing countries, where it remains the leader in the simple cellphone business.
Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, even prophesied there would be Android smartphones for 70 dollars.
Nokia built a supercamera with a 41-megapixel sensor into one of its cellphones. The message is that it is too early to write off the former mobile phone superpower.
Microsoft made the most of the cellphone fair to present a test version of its next operating system, Windows 8. The upcoming Windows is for use on tablet computers as well and is expected to run even on devices using the chips made by Microsoft's British competitor ARM, currently to be found on almost all smartphones and tablets.
In order to make this possible, Windows is effectively to be re-invented, according to Microsoft's Windows president, Steven Sinofsky, whom many bill as the heir apparent to Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer.
With this new operating system, Microsoft embraces the long-denied "post-PC era," which the late Apple founder Steve Jobs once proclaimed. The idea at the core was that the personal computer is no longer the measure of all things but just one of many devices.
Sales figures have long proved Jobs right.
"Microsoft has only just released the handbrake on time," said Nvidia's vice president for Europe Bernhard Gleissner.
As usual, Apple skipped the Mobile World Congress, but still managed to cause disruption.
Just as Google's Schmidt presented his vision in Barcelona of a connected future, invitations were sent out for the presentation of the next iPad generation, and the tech world again turned its eyes towards California.
The timing of greetings from Cupertino can hardly have been a coincidence: Google and Apple, once partners, are now bitter rivals to the point of being engaged in a global patents war. And Apple boss Tim Cook has already made it clear that he plans to sell many more iPhones in the future than he does today.
Internal conflict is also apparent within the Android camp. There is a problem with the presence in the market of several versions of this operating system, which upsets app developers in particular and is a consequence of the great diversity of Android devices.
Besides, Samsung, currently Android's main pillar, is annoyed with Google's takeover of its rival Motorola. The South Korean giant made clear its own product, Bada, is also fit for smartphones across the board.
Andy Rubin, Google's Mobile vice president, tried to calm things down by saying that Google plans to build "a firewall" between Android and Motorola Mobility after the takeover, so that manufacturers of other Android devices are not at a disadvantage.
Constructing the fast LTE network to fix the bottlenecks in the current UMTS system is to play a crucial role in the future.
Mobile phone manufacturers again complained about having to contribute billions to build the new network, while much of the income will go to Google, Apple and other online service providers.
They moaned yet again about Brussels' overly-strict regulations, but European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, responsible for the European Union's digital agenda, struck right back.
"I call your bluff, and indeed do not respond well to threats," she said.
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