Year-end WRAP - 4Q: Apple, Nokia square up in smartphones

There really was only one story in the fourth quarter – the death of Apple’s influential co-founder Steve Jobs.
Speculation kicked off when Jobs finally stepped down from the firm in August after a long medical leave of absence. The announcement shook the firm’s share price, despite market watchers backing the competency of replacement Tim Cook who was acting CEO in Jobs absence.
Former rivals were quick to heap praise on the Apple co-founder. Their thoughts were perhaps best summarized by ex-Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who said simply that working with Jobs over the course of almost half the pair’s lives had been an “insanely great honor”.
Jobs’ death came just a few days after Apple launched its latest iPhone, the 4S, which garnered a muted response from industry analysts due to a lack of significant improvement on the previous model – specifically the omission of LTE. The biggest selling point for the new unit is the addition of Siri voice control, but even that hit problems outside the US by struggling to understand accents in various countries.
Despite the initial bagging, Apple’s faithful snapped up the device in their droves. Demand for the unit was so high, co-founder Steve Wozniak even had to wait in line to buy one.
Rival Nokia arguably had more riding on the launch of its Lumia 800, the firm’s first running Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. The device is meant to spearhead the firm’s fightback in the smartphone market, and Nokia even tried to inject some Apple-style enthusiasm into its launch presentation.
Unlike the iPhone 4S, industry watchers were generally impressed by Nokia’s first WP7 unit, however credit ratings agency Fitch questioned the level of profit the vendor will make from the new devices.
A tough year for RIM continued with a fall in earnings during fiscal 3Q12 – running to November 26 – caused by a serious outage caused when a UK data center failed. Although alternative sites took up the slack, they were quickly overwhelmed, causing the problem to spread to three continents at its peak.
The Canadian vendor also revealed its first smartphones running its next-generation BlackBerry 10 OS will miss its scheduled fiscal 4Q launch date. That admission came after the firm was forced to heavily discount its PlayBook Tablet, which already runs the new software, but has been slated for not offering e-mail connectivity.
Meanwhile, Sony and Ericsson decided to go their separate ways some ten years after forming their handset joint venture. The writing was arguably on the wall since the second quarter, when the business generated a net loss of €50 million – its first quarterly loss since 2009.
Sony plans to focus on smartphones in 2012, while Ericsson concentrates solely on its infrastructure business.
Rival equipment vendor Nokia Siemens detailed plans to slash its workforce by 17,000 as part of a restructure to focus on mobile broadband networks. The shift in strategy saw the firm sell its Wimax business to NewNet Communications, and its fixed broadband assets to ADTRAN.
Mobile payment schemes gained pace during the quarter. Telefonica added RIM’s smartphones to a trial of NFC that had been running solely on Samsung devices since April, and rival Orange teamed with Western Union to offer international money transfer services. Meanwhile, credit firm Visa Europe bought an 8.8% stake in mobile money firm Monitise in a bid to pitch itself at the forefront of payments technology.
LTE was catered for by Sweden’s Hi3G, which lit a dual-mode FDD/TDD 4G network; O2 switching on the UK’s first trial LTE network, and BT and EverythingEverywhere testing the last mile potential of the technology.
EverythingEverywhere also announced the first customers for a proprietary machine-to-machine (M2M) management platform unveiled late in the third quarter. Telefonica looked east for its M2M deals teaming with China Unicom to develop technical specifications.
And Google pledged to investigate why searching for “what defines an English person” returns a very rude word as the number one response.
ZDNet speculates “pesky kids” are playing the search engine’s ranking system by repeatedly linking to the source of the response.