The Winners: Microsoft, ARM & ZTE
There are inherent problems when writing in such broad terms as 'winner' or 'loser', but perhaps the big story to Mobile World Congress this year was how two newly partnered companies came out of the show so very differently...
Always best to start with a controversial candidate and if we had to pick the real winner from Mobile World Congress it would be Microsoft. Rumour is it cost the Redmond-based giant billions to tie Nokia's smartphone (and ultimately long term) future to Windows Phone 7, but for a company whose mobile strategy was in disarray it could be a masterstroke.
Nokia is brilliant at making hardware. Handsets like the N8 are beautiful, durable and power packed so combining that with the promising - if currently limited - Windows Phone bodes well. Especially with the Finns' knack of bringing in handsets at affordable prices. The close ties (Microsoft will integrate key Ovi technology into Bing) may alienate partners like Samsung and LG, but if it can hold onto even a third of Nokia's customer base then once again it can become one of the world's most influential smartphone platforms.
Under ARM we'd include ambitious partners like Qualcomm, Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Marvell and Samsung but since they all use ARM's CPU reference designs the UK company is set for a spectacular 2011. We've already discussed the problem with multi-core mobiles, but there is no denying the potential of quad core chipsets like the APQ8064 and Kal-El.
What's more ARM is dominant at every level of mobile chipset, from budget phones to the Galaxy S II and it dominates the fast emerging tablet sector. If ARM needed any more encouragement, Intel was extremely quiet during the show and is still struggling for acceptance in these sectors. With ARM support confirmed for Windows 8 this is just the start of an intriguing battle.
For those expecting to see Samsung or HTC in our top three the inclusion of this unfamiliar Chinese handset maker may be something of a surprise, but rest assured by the end of 2011 will have proved an obvious choice. Like HTC in years' gone by ZTE has made its name as a producer of rebranded handsets. This has largely kept ZTE under the radar, but having grown 94 per cent between 2009 and 2010 and in the process become the world's fourth largest handset maker it won't be a secret much longer.
The key to its plans are budget smartphones. The ZTE Racer offered a glimpse of what was to come late last year, but it was the Â£99 ZTE Blade (aka 'Orange San Francisco') which showed the company was capable of delivering power-packed smartphones at a fraction of the cost of its rivals. The announcement this week of the ZTE Skate (likely to retail SIM-free for under Â£150) complete with a 4.3in high-resolution capacitive display, plush featureset and 120g weight - is likely to make many consumers think twice about their next handset and whether they really want to sign up to lengthy contracts and high tariffs.
What gives ZTE this advantage is its massive, cheap Chinese workforce and the fact that it was state formed meaning its rise will be protected from hostile takeovers by the Chinese government. Smartphones have long been a high margin, luxury item. ZTE will be the single strongest player in destroying that perception and bringing smartphones to the mass market.