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Wow! What a year it's been for the mobile phone industry. We've been positively bombarded by great handsets from the get go and things are only getting better. What's more, there's been all kinds of goings on with the manufacturers and software developers. It's hard to know where to begin...
What's most significant is that this has been the year of Google Android. While the search giant's mobile phone operating system (OS) arrived a couple of years ago, it was only this year, with the likes of the HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S, that it really took off. It's not just the high-end handsets either. Thanks to its non-existent license costs and low system requirements, Android has even found its way onto sub-£100 handsets, bringing full smartphone features to a segment of the market usually left to cope with much more basic software.
As a result of this, handset manufacturers like Sony Ericsson, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and particularly HTC have given us a host of stellar handsets from the diddy Sony Ericsson X10 mini, through the dazzling Samsung Galaxy S to the humble HTC Wildfire.
Not that there hasn't been growth in other areas of the market. Despite a number of problems with its iPhone 4, Apple is still making inroads into overall market share, recently overtaking RIM as the fourth largest mobile phone vendor after Nokia, Samsung, and LG. With its massive app store, book store, and huge support from games developers it still has by far and away the most established and easy to use ecosystem. What's more, with the iPad and now even its Macs able to access the same app store, it's even easier to have a completely Apple computing environment.
The company can't sit pretty though as the other big players are all now catching up when it comes to designing easy to use touch-screen smartphones. Most notable in this regard is the eventual arrival of Microsoft Windows Phone 7. Launching a little too late for us to have properly reviewed any handsets by the time we're writing this, it's still clear that Microsoft has come up with something really impressive and it will be a big hitter in 2011.
Elsewhere we've seen Palm, who so excited us with its WebOS platform back at the beginning of 2008, nearly collapse, only to be saved at the last minute by HP. We're only just starting to see the fruits of this acquisition and early signs don't look overly promising - indeed we're rather fearful of what might happen to the Palm brand - but here's hoping it does turn out some competitive hardware over the next twelve months.
RIM, makers of the venerable Blackberry, has also had a turbulent year with it continuing to struggle to produce a consumer friendly touch-screen phone. The Torch 9800 was an interesting entrant but it still left us a little underwhelmed. The company also debuted its new PlayBook tablet, which looks quite promising, but we doubt it will sell in anything like the volumes that its traditional phones will. Hopefully this isn't a sign it will go the way of Palm. Time will tell.
And if we're talking about companies that are struggling then we certainly can't miss out Nokia. Bullishly sticking to its guns and avoiding Android or any other alternative operating systems, the Finnish giant is sticking to its Meego and Symbian platforms. Symbian^3 debuted with the Nokia N8 to much fanfare but again our first impressions were that it won't be the revolution Nokia's hoping for.
Overall though, as we said at the start, it's been a great year for phones with the choice of powerful smartphones now bigger than ever, and they're getting ever easier to use as well. We're also getting to the point where you outright expect a budget handset to offer a half decent web browsing experience, social networking, email access, and a passable camera. So whatever your wallet size you should seldom be left out the social loop or caught without the means to take a quick snap. Some of the handsets even make phone calls too...