Google, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM CEOs face off in Barcelona

Apple doesn't need to take part in Mobile World Congress, says an analyst, since it focuses on consumers

As the CEOs from Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Research In Motion (RIM) get set to take the stage at Mobile World Congress in February, the mobile OSes war looks set to get even tougher.

On Tuesday, show organizers GSM Association confirmed that Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, Nokia's Stephen Elop and Jim Balsillie from RIM have all been confirmed as keynote speakers. Google CEO Eric Schmidt's participation had previously been confirmed.

The smartphone sector is going through a major transition in which Android is becoming the dominate platform except for the high-end market, where the Apple iPhone and iOS continue to rule, according to Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms and Media. The other main OSes -- Nokia's Symbian and MeeGo, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and RIM's BlackBerry OS -- will have to find a role in that world or perish, Newman said.

The CEO's representing those three platforms will have a lot to prove at Mobile World Congress, which will take place Feb. 14 to Feb. 17 in Barcelona.

Currently, all eyes are on Elop to see whether he can turn around Nokia in the high-end smartphone segment, according to Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. Nokia is betting on Symbian and MeeGo to help it do that. Sony Ericsson and Samsung have backed away from the platform and have left Nokia holding the bag. Recently, Elop also said that the first MeeGo-based product from Nokia will arrive in 2011.

Today, Nokia is still very strong in emerging markets. But as these markets start adopting smartphones, Nokia will be challenged there as well, principally by Android-based devices from Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, according to Newman.

On the surface, RIM is doing much better than Nokia, but the company is losing ground to Apple and the Android camp. RIM's smartphone market share in the U.S. fell from 28 per cent to 22 per cent in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, according to market research company NPD Group. That allowed Apple, whose market share grew to 23 per cent, to take second place. Android-based smartphones accounted for 44 per cent of devices sold in the U.S. during the third quarter, NPD said.

RIM is selling lots of phones thanks to its strength in the messaging sector, but it still has a lot to learn about developing phones for consumers, Milanesi said.

By the time Mobile World Congress comes around, it will also be known how successful the initial launch of Windows Phone 7 was.

On the other side of the spectrum, Google's Schmidt will get a chance to brag even more about Android's growing success, according Milanesi. However, Milanesi would also like to see Schmidt make announcements about how Google plans to improve the Market application store, which, today, is Android's Achilles' heel, she said.

Apple's Steve Jobs is missing from the list of speakers at Mobile World Congress, and there is no need for the him to talk at the show, according to Newman. Apple has a very clear idea about who its customers are -- they are consumers, and they aren't attending Mobile World Congress, he said.

Other CEOs speaking at the show will be Paul Otellini of Intel, who will give Elop some backup on MeeGo, Yahoo's Carol Bartz and chief executives from operators NTT DoCoMo, SoftBank, AT&T, China Mobile and Vodafone.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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