Sunday, February 07, 2010

Mobile OS wars evolve

Up until a few years ago, it looked like Symbian Series 60 was the key mobile phone operating system, and developers ran to it in droves creating applications. To this day it remains the leader, with studies showing that Symbian accounts for over 50% of the mobile OS market share.

But Apple’s aggressive iPhone strategy, coupled with the successful AppStore and iTunes, is clearly cutting into that lead, as are other players such as BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Google’s Android.

Nokia has responded by improving its offering, launching the Ovi application store and recently ‘opening up’ the Symbian code which it owns to developers, thereby making it an open source technology that can compete with Android which is gathering pace because it’s developers are adopting it.

And, on top of that, Nokia is experimenting with another mobile OS, Maemo on its N97 and N900. Maybe this means Nokia is moving on from Symbian and maybe not.

But it’s strange to see so-called industry analysts sounding the death knell for Symbian, while predicting- as if anyone could predict at this stage- that the future mobile OS war is a straight battle between the iPhone OS and Android.

Frankly, it seems to be a conclusion reached purely due to the ‘coolness’ factor of Apple and Google.

For example, the Android’s user base is smaller than Windows Mobile which Microsoft probably considers to be a somewhat of a failure!

The reality is that Nokia continues to dominate the mobile phone arena, still accounting for more than iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones put together!
A significant percentage of those phones are Symbian OS smart phones, and when you add the Symbian devices also produced by LG, Samsung, Sony Ericcsson and others it becomes clear that the iPhone is ‘trendy’ but not dominant. Even in it’s category of new-age smart phones, the iPhone still lags behind BlackBerry devices- some studies report a two-to-one sales ratio in it’s home market of North America- and BlackBerry is beating it by even more than that in other regions.

So maybe Symbian, BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile - in that order- are still all vying to win the battle for an industry standard mobile OS.
But who said consumers want one dominant standard? I know I don’t. It’s refreshing today to see Microsoft Windows, Macinstosh OS and Linux competing to please consumers in the personal computer world.

The mobile world made of smaller, pocket-size computers, should go that route too. Variety is good and now that Symbian and Android are open, we’ll see what Microsoft, Apple and BlackBerry will do next with their ‘closed code’, but highly integrated mobile OS offerings. It should be interesting to watch.


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