2014 has proven to be quite the year in the US cellular market and it's not over yet! Compiling a list of the top influences over the year is always going to be tough, but here we have one. Now, I don't want to go through every entry in the list because we'd be here all day but instead, let me pull out the highlights of the list. We've seen new handsets, businesses' fortunes ebb and flow and sometimes trying to determine what the key events and industry shakers is Difficult! Let's see who's been the most influential of the industry and try to put them into a semblance of order. It's a tall challenge, too, and one where I'm not sure there's a definitive answer. I'm sure that this will be a contentious list and readers will likely have lots of comments and observations.
When compiling this list, I needed to mix the regulator, the carriers, device and component manufacturers: who's been the most influential in the year? And because of this, I need to put the Federal Communications Commission at the top, the FCC. This is for the simple reason what the FCC provide the crayons that everybody else must use when they're coloring in their year. This year, we've seen the FCC manage the AWS-3 auction, which is still ongoing. The low frequency auction has been postponed a year because of the broadcasting companies lodging a complaint and we've also seen activity associated with the next generation networks – 5G.
Next in the list is going to place T-Mobile USA, headed up by the outspoken John Legere. T-Mobile have been linked with various buyers or mergers during 2014 but have not changed their business structure. Instead, the business has started something of a price war in the market with its Uncarrier marketing. Where T-Mobile has led, the other carriers have followed. I put Verizon next, then AT&T, but there's little in it. Both are ahead of Sprint, although this position may change following the change of leadership here. Sprint is hanging on to the T-Mobile-led bandwagon riding a skateboard, but I put the cell carrier behind my next two entries.
After the big carriers, it's the place of the manufacturers and this is where things get difficult. How influential is say Apple to the industry? In terms of innovation, Apple have followed, but they have massive consumer mindshare and carry considerable influence. Google have influence too but much of it is indirect: we've seen Android Lollipop, Android Wear, Android TV and Android One as just a few projects. BlackBerry have continued to develop and release new handsets and push BlackBerry OS 10 further. Microsoft continue working on Windows Phone, but neither of these names have been so influential in the year.
Where do we pitch the big name brands for the developed smartphone market (the Samsungs, Motorolas, HTCs) compared with the big names from the developing markets – the Xiaomis and Lenovos? And then we consider the component manufacturers – the Nvidias, Qualcomms and MediaTeks of the world, amongst others. I've placed MediaTek next in the list because they are an enabler for so many other businesses. MediaTek processors power many devices in many markets, from entry level Android One smartphones to the device with the highest benchmark scores and all manner of devices in-between. Of course, MediaTek are not the only Chinese processor or even component manufacturer, but they're the most plentiful Chinese processor to have made it over to the developed smartphone (and tablet) markets.
Lenovo have shown themselves that they're not afraid to bring to market different ideas. Incorporating a subwoofer and projector into a 12-inch tablet is another example of Lenovo's innovation. And OnePlus merit their entry because, regardless of the quality of the product, it's been something that many people have thought and written about over the year. It'll be difficult for OnePlus to repeat the same sort of mindshare process going forwards, but not impossible. Xiaomi's smartphones are not especially innovative, but their push into healthcare and provision of online services, plus how they are potentially shaking up the competition by offering equivalent or superior hardware at lower costs.
At the bottom of the list, I've put Nvidia and Microsoft. Nvidia because their push into mobile processing is putting powerful GPUs into smaller and smaller devices and projects such as Google's Tango. Microsoft, because although Windows Phone 8 isn't innovate, their adoption of cloud storage and rebasing their business model around their strongest product – Office – may shake up the industry.
1 Federal Communications Commission
2 T-Mobile USA
4 Verizon Wireless