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Could 2013 be the year that mobile becomes more than a two-horse race?

At the moment there are only two real players in the mobile space. If you’re thinking of building an app, iPhone and Android are the only platforms worth considering.

However, that may change.

Any late joiners to the marketplace face a huge challenge in convincing people to move away from an eco-system in which users may already have spent hundreds of pounds on devices and apps, but there may be factors that can convince users to make the move. It’s unlikely to be the devices themselves – they all share similar capabilities (though a few exceptions exist – NFC, Apple?) so it comes down to the software. And critically, how that software supports the user’s life beyond just making calls and how it integrates with the “day job”. And this is where Microsoft could come in.

Windows Phone has had a big push during the final few months of 2012, and though it hasn’t yet gained the traction Steve Ballmer would’ve liked, it has the advantage of coming from the same vendor that provides the productivity software 99.9% of us use everyday. So where it could easily make gains is in the corporate space. With the demise of Blackberry, Windows Phone 8 should be in a prime position to be the chosen provider for any large company that hasn’t already decided to integrate iPhone into the standard kit they roll out to employees. Having Office on mobile in a format that is 100% compatible with the desktop version would be a huge advantage. They’ve rolled out versions recently which, while not perfect, are an excellent start and immediately eclipse the Office compatibility of the competitors.

If they can also provide effortless integration with their other technologies (Exchange, Active Directory, SharePoint and the like) then it would almost be nonsensical for a company to look elsewhere .The fact that those in the know tell me that currently iPhone is better at integrating with MS back-end systems is a bit of a stumbling block, but there’s no reason Microsoft couldn’t resolve this quickly.

However, with the increased adoption of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) programs, it may be too little too late. BYOD is exactly what it says – employees using their own device at work. Several initiatives are underway to encourage this (no-one likes carrying two phones) such as the Evernote For Business program which allows a user to have two partitions of the data they store, personal and work-related. And if they leave the company the business data can be wiped remotely, leaving the personal content alone. Expect to see more approaches like this in the future.

And then there’s RIM. Can Blackberry ever regain its “Crackberry” status again? I think not, but with the launch of version 10 at the end of January they’re determined to become a significant player again. Whether they will ever got back to the position they were in just a few short years ago (BI – before iPhone) is, I believe, unlikely – but they’ve still got traction with businesses they can capitalise upon.

So, to summarise, the key questions that seasoned mobile waters will be asking over the next 12 months…

Can RIM stop the rot and bring desirable devices and infrastructure back to the market?
Can Microsoft leverage their position as the de-facto standard for desktop systems and integrate it into their mobile offering?
Can Apple successfully penetrate the enterprise further and become more than the number one market for games, filtered photos of cats and expensive handsets?
Can the inexorable rise of Android continue while also dealing with the issues of device fragmentation and the security issues inherent in such an open system?

As for the answers – who knows? The next year is certainly going to be interesting… watch this space!

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