Can the mobile landscape change?

Shifting_SandsSpeaking to the Australian Financial Review, Blackberry’s CEO Thorstein Heins this week had a few choice things to say about the current mobile landscape, including his thoughts on Apple’s leadership in the mobile space, and how fleeting that may be:

Apple did a fantastic job in bringing touch devices to market … They did a fantastic job with the user interface, they are a design icon. There is a reason why they were so successful, and we actually have to admit this and respect that,” Mr Heins said.

“History repeats itself again I guess … the rate of innovation is so high in our industry that if you don’t innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly. The user interface on the iPhone, with all due respect for what this invention was all about is now five years old.”

Thorstein should know about rates of innovation.  It wasn’t long ago that Blackberry, and not Apple, led the pack in the mobile space, only to succumb to the same lack of innovation that could do Apple in (don’t count them out just yet, of course).  And while much of the focus currently is focusing on Samsung and Android, it’s not clear how Google is making much money from Android, or if it will be willing to continue to foot the bill for development costs for Android only to see others make the lion’s share of the profits.  Samsung indeed is working on its own operating system, Tizen, which it plans to release in at least one phone this fall, and the days of Samsung’s reliance on Android may shift, too.

In short, while we think of the mobile landscape as viewed in a snapshot: Apple as leader, Google coming on strong, Blackberry dying out quickly, and Windows Phone as the perennial also-ran, there’s nothing quite so concrete about the actual picture, and the truth is that fortunes can, and have, and will again, change quickly.

That’s not to say that any of this does Windows Phone any good, but at least Microsoft is in the game this time, unlike the days when it held on to Windows Mobile as the world changed around it.  Microsoft itself has undertaken painful but necessary steps to move itself into a more mobile, and devices and services focused position.  While it’s still not there yet, as Simon Bisson points out today in a post on ZDNET, Microsoft could emerge with a cross-discipline, cross-device, services based ecosystem that the other players just don’t have the pieces to put together.  Microsoft has yet to prove that it can work together internally enough to get those pieces all lined up, but recent indications, including removing Steven Sinofsky, and even new rumblings that Windows and Windows Phone may merge organizations, could point to a new Microsoft that actually gets it.

Microsoft has more pieces to play with than anyone, and is showing signs that it’s willing to make the moves necessary to build them out into a set of devices, services, and software that can compete.  Will the sands shift enough to allow it?