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Apple, Google, RIM: Smartphone Shakeout

Stocks in this article: AAPL

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The mobile Internet gold rush has begun, and some companies will strike it rich while others will get dusted in the stampede.

Brass-ring holder Apple (AAPL), the ascendant Androids of Google (GOOG), the plump BlackBerry from Research In Motion (RIMM), the slumbering giant Nokia (NOK) and the valiant Palm (PALM) are all vying for the each others' business. Here is how it shakes out:

The iPhone has been the "it" phone for three years.

The situation. After leading the way for a whole new generation of multi-touch smartphones, Apple needs something new to stay ahead of the pack. "Apple is very exposed," says Charter Equity analyst Ed Snyder. "Everyone is coming after them." Apple needs a fresh iPhone and a fresh new market. The iPhone is in a rut at AT&T (T), where heavy complaints have tarnished the company's network quality image. And the iPhone itself is getting stale. Design fatigue will soon set in as gadget fans start to crave something new.

The solution. Apple must raise the bar with its new iPhone. The improvement has to be significant enough to get original iPhone owners to upgrade and lure more buyers into the Apple fold. The iPhone needs either a distinctive design change that signals it is the shiny new object to own, or at least a feature improvement like a user-facing camera to allow video calling. One thing the iPhone won't have, it seems, is a spot at Verizon (VZ), at least not this year.

The stock. After doubling last year, Apple shares have gone flat. The iPad isn't going to be the wonder gadget that launches a stage-two growth rocket for the stock, and without Verizon, there's not much extra fuel in the tank.

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