From Motorola to Samsung: Eras of global mobile leadership

A recent conversation on Twitter with Neelakantan on the topic of Apple and emerging markets led us down the rabbit hole of reminiscing on mobile phones and their history of leadership in the recent past. We’ve read, written and commented on mobile phones since 2006 or so, and today’s foray into the archives inspired me to write this post.

Motorola. The Razr.

Does anyone remember the days when Motorola was #1 in the world?

It wasn’t all that long ago when Nokia toppled the leader to take over the top spot only to cause an exponential spread of this handy little device across the entire planet.

“The mobile terminals market is exhibiting extraordinarily strong growth in 2003, and we believe it could reach half a billion units this year,” Dec 2003

Nokia was #1 in the world and it didn’t look like anyone could topple them.

Then, Steve Jobs released the iPhone but even then it was never a contender for the top spot in mobile phone sales globally, narrowly focused as it was to only a particular segment of the world market.

Until Samsung…

Somewhere in the dusty archives of the blog are tables and charts of sales data showing Samsung’s climb up the charts to #2 position which it held for some years until this year’s takeover of the #1 position.

“Samsung is now on the verge of achieving 10 percent global market share during the latter half of the year. This is a psychologically important market share objective and further evidence that Samsung is clearly in Nokia’s and Motorola’s rearview mirrors,” Prohm said. ~ August 2002

What does this tell us (other than the fact that Samsung should watch its back closely around 2016)?

That leaders come and go, each of the major players – the market makers and device creators – Motorola and Nokia – had their day in the sun. But each held on to this spot for shorter and shorter periods of time before the competing contenders knocked them off their perch.

The evidence supports recent forecasts that the popularity of mobiles packed with extra features is set to explode as they get better and cheaper. So far these devices have been slow to get off the ground, as they have been relatively expensive and have limited battery life. ~ BBC, 2004

There’s a post here to be written analyzing the evolution of leadership against the changes in the operating environment and rapid growth of the emerging markets. What changed?

Can companies respond competitively in high flux transitions in their target markets or are they doomed to accept their limited time in the sun?

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