End of the PC
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Once-dominant Nokia released its latest Windows-based smartphones, the Lumia 820 and 920, to a tepid reaction from investors on Wednesday. The launch represents perhaps the last chance for the Nokia-Microsoft alliance to bear fruit for the Finnish company, which embarked on a risky strategy by abandoning its in-house Symbian operating system to partner with Microsoft. It also reveals how competitive the mobile computing market has become. Nokia hopes to expand its market share and compete with Apple's iPhone and devices based on Google's Android system, which together command over two-thirds of the smartphone market. The phones themselves received good reviews but, just like with the browser wars a decade ago, a good product is no longer enough to guarantee success.
With smartphones, as important as the hardware is the ecosystem surrounding it — apps, developers and the like. This is where Apple and Google have succeeded, and where older phone companies like Nokia and Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, have been caught napping. What makes it difficult for these companies to catch up is that, much like a social network, the developers will go where the users are — and the users will go where the apps are, creating a vicious circle.
As the lucrative smartphone market grows — global sales grew 32 per cent last quarter — the competition is only going to get more intense. Amazon, for instance, wants in on the action, and Facebook has long been rumoured to have a phone in the works. The lawsuits and countersuits around software patents relevant to smartphones and tablets underline the importance of the market. Analysts see market share shifting from PCs to tablets and smartphones. Just as the browser wars in the early 1990s heralded a new era for personal computing centred on the internet, smartphone wars signal that the PC might be close to meeting its long-predicted end. The mobile revolution is already here.
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