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Back in the 1950s there were more than 60 American-based television manufacturers. By the 1990s, there were none. The stats for Europe are similar: most Western European countries had a national TV-set brand or two. Now few do. The hardware business went East. But the profitable content business stayed behind.
So, will the mobile device torch soon be passed East as well? And for good?
To me, there is no doubt that commoditization is the largest general trend in the handset business. The underlying software has taken center stage and service providers such as Google, Facebook, and wireless operators look at devices as little more than screens for their services.
Most smartphones and more basic handsets are already made in China regardless of the label. (I'm not sure if any smartphones are assembled outside of China.) But one of the key recurring themes during the last few quarters of sales as well as at CES 2013 is the growing strength of Chinese brands. Brands few had heard of just a few years ago are now making headlines across the globe: ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, TCL, Coolpad, Xiaomi, Tianyu (K-Touch), Haier. And it looks possible that Chinese vendors could take half of the top 10 spots among handset market leaders within the coming quarters taking total global volumes greater than 25%.
About five years ago I was speaking to one Nokia executive about this subject. As he said at the time, "Chinese vendors make great copies... but they won't be making copies forever."
What will the mobile hardware business look like in 10 years? I suspect the writing is already on the great wall.
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