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Aiming for Third Place: Android’s Greatest and Android’s Least

The race for third place

Have you ever aimed for third place? When I was a child and had to make experiments for the local school science fair, I always aimed for third place. Most children aimed to get voted first, but I always thought first place was too good for me. I have never been good at making anything with my hands, so I decided that third place in the science fair would suit me just fine. Third place was a position of honor, right after the top two. It didn’t seem so bad then.

If my experience means anything, it has the support of some of the world’s largest Android manufacturers. It is no secret that Apple and Samsung dominate the top two slots; anyone else that tries to make it to the top of the stack will have to settle for third. I am a believer that the world of tech is any manufacturer’s game. Samsung was once a company that could not even bask in Apple’s shadow; today, it’s Apple basking in Samsung’s. I realize this last statement will get massive disapproval from hard-core Apple fans. Before you think the worst of me, let me state that I own a MacBook Pro, iPod Touch 3G, iPad 3 with Retina display, and an iPhone 4S. As much as I criticize Apple, I do not hate the company; I just think that Google and Samsung are out-innovating Cupertino these days, though I am open to the possibility that the iPhone 5S (and iPhone 6) may propel Cupertino back to the top of the stack once again.

HTC said that it wants to achieve third place in the smartphone race, and Blackberry (formerly RIM, Research In Motion) said the same thing recently. This past week, however, it was LG Electronics, according to Business Insider writer Steve Kovach:

“This week, an executive from LG told me his company is aiming for a ‘strong third place’ in the smartphone wars. I found that interesting.

It’s the third time in the last few months that I’ve heard a major smartphone maker say it’s aiming for the slot below Apple and Samsung.

Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins got a lot of flack from critics when he said it about his company’s new mobile operating system, BB10. And one of HTC’s North American presidents, Jason Mackenzie, told my colleague and I a similar story last fall…it’s as if they’re giving up before the fight is over” (Steve Kovach, “Everyone But Apple And Samsung Is In A Sad Race For Third Place”).

These companies do not care to reach the top and outdo Apple and Samsung, though they wouldn’t mind the feat by a longshot. Rather, they only hope to do well in the smartphone wars; and for them, third place is as important as me coming in third at the local science fair: it is a feat that seems almost miraculous.

Why is this the case? Have HTC, Blackberry, and LG given up on themselves, their ability to surprise and win? Does this mean that they have a low self-esteem about their chances and just want to get by with some form of ephemeral excellence? No, this is not the case at all; rather, these companies realize that Apple and Samsung dominate the electronic scene and it will take all their resources to even come close to outperforming these two companies. LG has produced the Optimus G, which fared well in the top three carriers (Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T) last fall. The LG Optimus G looks to be a hit, but LG’s newest phones do not rival those of Samsung, Apple, and Sony. The LG phones do not stand out, but look similar to other standard smartphones that you would expect with 2013 features and specs. HTC’s newest phone, the HTC One, has an aluminum backing for which the company has paid licensing fees to Apple for the next ten years. It’s clear why the company chose an aluminum backing for its phone. When HTC introduced the phone recently, it was not the “wow” that many HTC fans were expecting.

As for Blackberry, its BB Z10 did not “wow,” either. When the company introduced its newest form (and changed the company name to Blackberry), it was expected that the company would present a phone that would take us beyond the physical keyboard days. Blackberry did, but the result was nothing more than a touchscreen that costs $999 unlocked with T-Mobile’s virtual network operator, Solavei. While I appreciate Blackberry and have relatives who love Blackberry phones, the basic touchscreen price for it ($999) makes the unlocked iPhone price look almost “angelic” ($500-$650), depending on the carrier from which you purchase it. Cam Bunton of Today’s iPhone points out in his BBZ10 review that a multitude of applications are missing from the BB phone. When you look at the fact that the BBZ10 is a typical smartphone without a large application store, the Z10 is not worth its price. The Z10 is still an excellent product, but it is not worth $1000 (neither is any other phone, in my highest opinion).

This is not to say that it is not possible for these competitors to rival Apple and Samsung in a few years; after all, Samsung has not always been the smartphone innovator that we see today. My memories of Samsung’s flip-phone days are still present in my mind. I remember that, once upon a time, Samsung was not a company whose phones I wanted to purchase. That may be just my personal preference, but it seems to have been the preference of many others. Samsung moved into the smartphone scene and — VOILA! The company now stands head-and-shoulders with Cupertino in the smartphone wars. The other companies can get there, but they will have to make sacrifices, similar to Samsung’s efforts. These companies are “Android’s Least,” but Android’s least may some day become Android’s greatest with a little innovation and time.

There is one company, however, that refuses to come in third place, or even second place for that matter: Huawei. While the Chinese manufacturer produces low-level smartphones and has not had much of a presence here in the United States, Huawei looks to change that. According to company executives, Huawei looks to outperform Apple and Samsung within the next few years. As for the company that I think will get third place? In all likelihood, third place will go to Sony, if only initially. While Sony may rank third among smartphone brands, Sony will be deemed a strong second to Samsung in the Android world. It is my belief that LG, HTC, and others will not get their third-place wish by the end of 2013.