Smartphone Wars: Revenge Of The Droids

By Eugene Bukoveczky | August 06, 2010 AAA

It looks like Carl Icahn knows a good thing when he sees one.

Recently shares of electronics giant Motorola (NYSE:MOT) jumped more than 5% on news that the veteran corporate raider and shareholder activist upped his stake in the company to just under 10%. The move suggests a significant about-turn in Icahn's view of Motorola, a company that is scheduled to be broken into two separate public companies next year.

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What could be the reason behind this sudden change of heart?

Android Phones Are Now Hot
One possible reason is that Motorola now seems to be doing a whole lot better in the fiercely competitive smartphone wars that pit it against major rivals like Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), with its signature iPhone, and Research in Motion's (Nasdaq:RIMM) Blackberry. And that has to do with Motorola's decision last year to start producing smartphones equipped with Google's (Nasdaq:GOOG) Android operating system.

According to a recently released industry survey, sales of Android-equipped smartphones in the U.S. really began taking off in the last quarter. During that period, Android phones accounted for about one-third of all smartphones sold in the U.S., with the Motorola's Droid holding top spot on the list. About 200,00 Android-based smartphones are now sold every day. Sales of RIMM's Blackberry fell into second place for the first time since 2007 with a 28% share, and Apple's iPhone fell into third place, with a 22% share.

New Blackberry Gets a Raspberry
RIMM recently launched its own "iPhone killer" handset that features similar touchscreen functionality, but industry watchers have dismissed the product as lacking the allure and elegance of Android-equipped or iPhone devices. While Google's strategy of getting handset makers to partner up with Android was intended to go after Apple's iPhone market share, it now appears that RIMM has suffered a considerable amount of collateral damage as a result. A growing security fracas with countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and India has also hurt the company.

The Bottom Line
Although it's unlikely to regain its once-prominent position in the mobile handset industry, the proposed new entity, Motorola Mobility, should do better than expected given the strong tailwind it's getting from the unexpectedly positive consumer response to Android. But for the moment, investors interested in playing this promising trend are obliged to buy the entire pre-breakup company, which includes a lot of legacy operations focused in the slower growing networks business. (Read 6 Financial Apps You'll Love to learn about some useful financial apps.)

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