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Friday, March 26, 2010

Mobile Operating Systems (OS): A Quick Primer

I wrote earlier on the various Smartphone Operating Systems available in the market today – and which ones of them are expected to thrive or die. Recently at the CTIA, Peter Chou, the CEO of HTC Corp said "There are probably three to four operating systems that will eventually exist in the market". So I thought it would be relevant to take a look at the various Mobile OS’ in the world today, and their strategies to dominate our mobile devices.

In The Lead:
  • Symbian (Nokia): Nokia's use of the Symbian operating system is the sole reason the platform is found in nearly half of all smartphones. The handset giant said it controlled 39% of the total cellphone market at the end of last year. The Finnish telecom giant in December reiterated its support for Symbian, which was opened up in February in an effort to attract other handset makers, and is now driven by the Symbian Foundation. Nokia, however, is also tinkering with a next-generation software called MeeGo, which is jointly run by the handset maker and Intel. Nokia plans to use MeeGo in its high-end smartphones, relegating Symbian to mid-tier smartphones and lower-end devices. It's clear why Nokia is hopping on its own advanced software; it has been a while since there's been an eye-catching Symbian phone in the market.
  • iPhone (Apple): Ever since the iPhone debuted in 2007, its rivals - most of which are far more experienced in the business - have been chasing the company and its iconic handset. The iPhone nearly doubled its operating system market share to 14.4% last year, according to Gartner. While other companies have closed the gap on the iPhone's features and design, it still remains at the head of the pack, providing a visible lift to carriers that sell the device.
  • BlackBerry (Research In Motion): Research in Motion Ltd.'s (RIMM) Blackberry line is another established player that's not going anywhere. The phones are a ubiquitous sight in the corporate world, but it also has done well branching out into the consumer world with devices such as the Pearl. The company also enjoys broad carrier support, while the iPhone has to rely solely on AT&T Inc. (T). The company, however, faces criticism that its operating system appears dated when stacked compared to the flashier smartphone devices from its rivals.

On The Rise
  • Android (Google): The platform getting the most recent attention has been Google’s Android mobile operating system. Motorola Inc. (MOT) used Android for its big comeback phone, the Droid, which was launched with large fanfare through Verizon Wireless. While it still has a relatively small presence in the market, Gartner says Android will become the No. 2 mobile platform within two years. But its open approach may lead to further customer confusion and the fragmentation of the market.

Wild Cards
  • Windows Phone 7 Series (Microsoft): Microsoft's Windows Mobile software has been in a downward spiral as rivals bypassed it. But the software giant silenced some critics by tearing up the platform and starting anew with Windows Phone 7 Series. While industry observers applaud the Zune-like feel, there a lot of questions remain. The first of the new devices won't launch until the holiday season, giving its competitors a lot of time to widen the gap. It's unclear how much support it will get from application developers, the telcos or handset makers. Programs that run on the older version of the software are no longer compatible. Microsoft is rallying support behind the new platform, but how much traction it will ultimately gain is yet to be seen.
  • WebOS (Palm): There remain more questions about Palm’s future. It was the most buzz-worthy company a year ago with its Pre and WebOS platform, but much of that attention has faded. Its phones sold decently at Sprint but have struggled at Verizon. The company hopes to put more marketing muscle behind its products, and said AT&T would carry its products in the next few months.
  • Bada (Samsung): Samsung is also trying its hand at its own operating system, dubbed Bada. The company has traditionally relied on other platforms, such as Windows Mobile and Android, for its smartphones. The company, believes it can juggle different platforms and counts this as their competitive edge.  
  • LiMo (Misc.): The last mobile operating system is LiMo, which has been slow to win over carriers and customers, and has been far overshadowed by its rivals. It counts a number of partners, including Verizon, but so far has failed to make a dent in the market.