I'm currently looking at a number of mobile application domains, such as messaging, social networking, VoIP and application downloads.
One thing that strikes me is that we frequently see powerful incumbents being challenged by alliances. Apple faces attack from operator-run appstores. Facebook is viewed enviously by others that would like to control social networks. MSN has been pursued by various own-brand IM proponents. Visa and Amex are regularly targeted by new payment mechanisms.
But one regular characteristic of this type of competition in the mobile domain is the "coalition of the losers" approach, usually based on the notion of interoperability as a competitive differentiator. Industry bodies like the GSMA are frequently the drivers of such initiatives, although often they take over a pre-existing coalition.
We've seen failed attempts to build an IM interoperability community. My current view is that the RCS Initiative is also on its last legs (I'm currently writing an "epitaph" paper if anyone would like to try to change my mind). Now we have the Wholesale Application Community. There have been assorted others around payments, identity and mobile broadband (sorry, WiMAX Forum).
But I am struggling to think of a single case in which a losers' coalition has ended up being successful. For that matter, I'm not sure I can think of an example outside the telecoms industry either, where a single powerful Samson has been brought down by a coordinated horde of Davids.
Having 53 previously-ineffectual companies attacking a strong individual player usually just proves that 53 x Zero = Zero
Where change does occur, it's usually another proprietary or standalone player. BlackBerry's Messenger is taking bigger lumps out of MSN's user base than operators' messaging services ever have. It's Facebook that has given MySpace a kicking, not a consortium. Vodafone's M-Pesa has had more of an impact on mobile banking than any number of joint initiatives. Paypal has made the biggest impact on online payments.
In the airline industry, it has been the impact of individual low-cost carriers like Ryanair and Easyjet that have caused the greatest shake-ups, not Star Alliance or OneWorld.
One possible exception might be the Open Handset Alliance, aka Android. And more generally, the open-source model tends to fare a lot better than the "industry collaboration" approach at unseating incumbents.
I'm genuinely curious about this - if anyone has an example where a "coalition of the losers" has been triumphant in mobile, I'd love to know.