Richard Yu, chairman of Huawei’s device business, recently told Mobile World Live at Mobile World Congress that he believes market consolidation will see only three or four handset vendors remain in the future.

His reasoning is that with Apple and Samsung taking the lion’s share of profit from world handset sales, it leaves the other device makers scrabbling for what’s left, and struggling to survive.

But consolidation is not necessarily the logical conclusion of the current domination of the smartphone space by two players.

Think back five years, and the handset landscape was very different. Back then, the smart money would have been on Nokia and Motorola dominating in the future to the detriment of others, with Symbian remaining the king of the mobile operating systems.

But this being the technology industry, things can change very quickly, and it wasn’t long before Nokia and Motorola were wondering what had hit them.

First off, Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, which quickly saw its appeal go beyond the Apple fanboys of old. With its distinctive design and iOS operating system, which was designed with the web very much in mind (unlike the elderly Symbian), the iPhone became a phenomenon.

Then came Google’s Android, the first commercial version of which was launched in autumn 2008. The idea of the search giant making an operating system for computers, let alone mobile devices, would have seemed fanciful in 2007 but its impact has been anything but.

These two events dramatically shook up the mobile industry and led to the situation we see today, with Apple and Samsung vying for the top spot for smartphones while Samsung is closing in on Nokia as the world’s biggest mobile device maker in terms of shipments.

Meanwhile, Nokia is playing catch up in the smartphone arena – which will be an increasingly important battleground in the future – and Motorola is being brought into the Google family through a US$12.5 billion acquisition.

Things can change in the technology industry in the matter of a just a few years and, as the arrival of the iPhone and Android show, the status quo of one era doesn’t remain forever. Apple and Samsung won’t always be the dominant smartphone players – there will be room for others to make an impact.

Nokia’s effort to reassert itself in the smartphone space with Windows Phone to create a “third ecosystem” alongside Android and iOS is one development that has the potential to shake things up. And by becoming part of Google, Motorola will be well positioned in the new mobile world in which web and software companies are major players.

Meanwhile the other device makers– HTC, LG, Sony Mobile, Huawei, ZTE, Panasonic even – all have the potential to spring a surprise. One of the companies could design a user interface to run on top of Android that grabs consumer attention or develop its own OS that could blow the competition out of the water.

Maybe HP’s webOS could reinvent itself in the open source community and rise from the ashes to become a viable fourth ecosystem. It may seem unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Chinese vendors ZTE and Huawei also have the advantage of possessing local knowledge of the biggest emerging market in the world. Despite the efforts of Apple, Samsung and Nokia to break into China, the native players are well placed to become dominant players as the market explodes.

The point is that there is scope for other companies to have an impact and the current dominance of Apple and Samsung can easily be ended by disruptive players – like the iPhone and Android – or changes to market conditions.

Some consolidation may take place in the mobile device industry but it is unlikely that it will happen to the extent predicted by Huawei’s Richard Yu. There are too many innovative companies and talented people working in the mobile industry for mass consolidation to take place.

So while it may look like Apple and Samsung have the smartphone market sewn up, leaving other companies to struggle, there are plenty of opportunities for other mobile players – both old and new – to stake their claim for mobile dominance in the future.

Tim Ferguson

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members