The Biggest Smartphone Winner of 2013: Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NOK), Google Inc (GOOG)

Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSENOK)Last week marked two important milestones in the ongoing smartphone wars as Samsung released its latest powerhouse, the Galaxy S4, and Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY)‘s Z10 finally announced the day it would make its way to U.S. shelves. These events remind us that 2013 is likely to be another critical year for the smartphone business. What follows is a brief discussion of some of the major market participants and their prospects for the year. After looking at these, it should be easier to decide who will be The Biggest Smartphone Winner of 2013.

Samsung. While the Galaxy S4 is a critical step forward, it’s only a part of the story. In the past few years, the company has sold enough low-end phones to overtake Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) as the largest seller of phones in the world. Furthermore, as Samsung continues to command a larger and larger percentage of the Android market — 40% at the last report — it is setting itself up to push Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) in various areas. For example, the South Korean manufacturer has begun to highlight its own Samsung Hub rather than the Google Play app store; if Samsung is getting into the ecosystem, which it is clearly trying to do, it could significantly alter the landscape.

Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY). After a series of delays, March 22 will finally see the BlackBerry Z10 go on sale in the United States. Various wireless carriers have already begun taking preorders for the device, and BlackBerry announced on Wednesday that one of its partners had placed an order for 1 million units. These two announcements drove the stock higher by more than 15%, but the general consensus is that unless BlackBerry can put up significant sales figures in the near term, the company will face extinction.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) . Since its historic high last September, Apple shares have fallen by an alarming 40%. The decline has led to a speculation as to what steps the company needs to take to regain its dominance in the smartphone space. While some analysts have pushed for a cheaper iPhone that would allow the company to become competitive in both China and India, others worry that such a move would negatively affect the company’s image as the premium option. Others believe that the way forward for Apple is through the development of new markets, such as through the fruition of the various iWatch rumors.

Regardless of what direction the company chooses, it clearly must evaluate its product cycle; competitors have made the once-a-year model hard to justify, especially when intermediate updates like the 4S and the expected 5S this summer don’t represent significant advances. Forrester’s Charles Golvin explains: “If anything, what Apple needs to respond to is the cadence of their own releases, probably a completely new design every two years and a sort of speed bump every year is not an adequate cadence for Apple to remain at the forefront of smartphone innovation today.” Picking a strategic direction is perhaps the biggest test of Tim Cook’s leadership and will be illustrative of Apple’s ability to bounce back.