Google also released Ice Cream Sandwich to critical acclaim, but actual adoption remains low, accounting for just 1.6% of Android devices, less than a quarter of ancient Eclair version's share. Froyo is 22-months old now, yet it still runs on over a quarter of Android devices. This slow adoption is a problem for Google in matching iOS features, and makes it difficult for third party developers to make use of new features. Some developers are finding that supporting the multitudes of Android handsets costs more than the effort brings in.
The story of the year, however, should probably be the global patent war. Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and HTC appear to be the principal players, and skirmishes have been won and lost by each party, with no end in sight. An Apple-Microsoft consortium bought thousands of Nortel patents for US$4.5 billion, and shortly after patents again appear to have been the key reason Google paid US$12.5 billion for Motorola. Away from the spotlight, Microsoft has quietly hit up several Android manufacturers to collect patent taxes as well. Even Openwave contributed a patent or two to the war.
Apple had a very good year. The iPhone 4S was released to lukewarm critical response, but the customers loved it, and the Siri voice assistant became an instant icon, appearing even in late night comedy shows. Apple would sell a record 37 million iPhones in the Christmas quarter, part of the reason its market cap surpassed Exxon-Mobil and stands today at a staggering US$546 billion.
In other news, Nokia doesn't seem to be doing a great deal better shipping Windows Phone 7 handsets, RIM continues to circle the drain, and Palm has been put out to pasture. The Microsoft-Nokia alliance may inherit third place by default, but there's certainly no evidence of a third power forming right now. The consolidation I talked about last year has happened, and the mobile landscape of 2012 is iOS versus Android, maybe even Apple versus Samsung.
But RIM deserves a mention here. Falling behind in the smartphone market, RIM allowed itself to be distracted by the iPad, and developed the Playbook with newly-acquired QNX as an answer. The Playbook was a disaster (like just about every other competing tablet), shipping without even an email client, and is now selling at or below cost. Samsung is said to be interested in investing in RIM and perhaps building phones based on the upcoming BB10 software, but I don't think that will be enough. If RIM doesn't ship a killer phone in 2012 by itself, I think they're done as a force in this market.
As for Microsoft, they'll do what they always do: plug along and hope they come upon that magical version 3 that takes over the market. A very interesting factor in 2012 is whether any suspicion between Samsung and Google would overcome their mutual interests, and develop into a real falling out, making Samsung do a real switch to BB10, Windows, or its own Bada operating system. Android is too attractive for Samsung to give up easily, but if Google tries too hard to weaken Samsung's dominance, I think it's possible.