The Mobile 15: Our picks for the most innovative companies

The mobile industry has changed radically in just a few years:  We’ve had the smartphone revolution and the app revolution. And it was only three years ago that the tablet was written off as failed experiment. Now, it is testing the physical boundaries of the internet.

What’s next? Faster and cheaper mobile networks, an array of new devices to connect to those networks, disruptive payment models, and more captivating user interfaces. So which companies are likely to help power that new wave of innovation? Welcome to The Mobile 15.

These aren’t necessarily the most successful companies in the mobile world, though you could argue that a few of them might qualify for those lists as well. Rather, what we’re highlighting here is simply innovation: These are the companies, startups and giants alike, that are changing, or could potentially change, the mobile landscape in the most profound ways. We’ll be talking about this list — as well as many of broader themes and challenges in mobile– at Mobilize, our conference in San Francisco later this week.

The Mobile 15 includes some big brands, like Alcatel-Lucent and Samsung, but also some lesser-known names, like the printed memory company ThinFilm and crowdsourced traffic app developer Waze. Some of our picks may surprise you, like the inclusion of long-suffering Nokia(s nok). We know Nokia has hit a rough patch in recent years, but we think its attempts to radically reinvent itself with a new OS and new technologies are compelling — see more on our rationale below.

A word about our methodology: To create the list, we didn’t simply pick a bunch of names we liked and throw them into a spreadsheet. Our team — which included writers Katie Fehrenbacher, Kevin Tofel, Ryan Kim and Stacey Higginbotham– submitted dozens of candidates in categories ranging from app development to handset technologies to infrastructure vendors. We even included the Internet of Things — companies are turning everything from medical devices, energy-management systems and product packaging into small mobile computers.

We then graded every company on several different measures of innovation. Those with the highest total innovation scores earned a spot on our Mobile 15 list. Some of these companies, like Israeli startup Intucell,  are working on one-time innovations, while others, like Apple, of course, have a longer track record of breakthroughs. What connects all the companies on our list is that they will have a big impact on the mobile industry.

So keep your eye on these companies in coming months. To the 15!

—Kevin Fitchard