I don’t know if it’s politically correct to call Christmas and New Year the ‘silly season’ but after reviewing headline news from the telco industry over the holiday period it would be fair to say that the plum pudding probably had a little to much brandy in it.  Maybe we should swap to ‘Apple pie’ for next year.

I say this tongue in cheek, of course, but Apple was definitely the most consistent headline grabber in 2009 and started this year with a bang as well.  Just before Christmas, the peak shopping period of the year, news reports came out of New York, the original Big Apple, that AT&T had withdrawn the iPhone from it’s shelves in some areas because its network was not able to cope with any more data traffic and it wanted to prevent overload and potential system failure over the busy period. Gobsmacked would have been an understatement after reading this story.

For years we heard the analysts tell us that voice traffic would be declining faster than data traffic increases but it appears that one device from a company with no previous experience in telephony products has single-handedly brought networks to their knees!  That’s some phone.

The the main industry headline of the new year featured Nokia’s enhanced and almost virulent legal attack on Apple claiming multiple patent infringements.  Now this is probably not the venue to argue the pros and cons of what may become a massive tit-for-tat legal battle, but who do you suspect will end up funding the army of lawyers? The consumer, of course. It’s hard to believe that a company like Apple would go out of its way to infringe Nokia’s patents but on the other side you wonder how anyone could produce any type of handset these days without doing so.

And there lies the conundrum.  When Apple released its now famous iPhone the howls of derision from almost every other handset maker were almost deafening.  It was missing so many basic phone features that they had carefully nurtured over the years, it had no keypad and, worst of all, it had no ability to copy and paste, send SMS to multiple receivers or had T9 text entry.  But strangely, those features so highly acclaimed by the very people that knew everything about what customers wanted were overshadowed by the sheer usability of the device.  When the iPhone started taking a big share of the smartphone market and customers were claiming satisfaction rates in the high 90s the others still persisted in making phones the way they thought they should be made.

Now it appears that the leading horses in the ‘Smartphone Stakes’ have well and truly bolted. Apple and RIM (that other smartphone ‘dark horse’), are well ahead of the pack.  It seems that Nokia’s only means of slowing Apple down is to handicap it with the weight of legal proceedings.  Surely it could have taken this action when the iPhone first came out?  Why now, and why not take every other manufacturer to court as well, surely they have also infringed something Nokia patented.  It does sound, initially, like ‘sour grapes’.

Nokia has alleged Apple infringes its patents in ‘virtually all of its mobile phones, portable music players, and computers’ sold.  Wow, if that’s true it could mean a very big payout for Nokia.  If it’s not, it could cost Nokia dearly and drop it further back in the smartphone race.  Just now it looks like an each-way bet who will win, with the consumer the most likely to suffer by footing the bill.