Magazine Article | September 27, 2011

Mobile OS Mania: Predicting The Unpredictable

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By David Krebs, director, mobile and wireless, VDC Research

Choice is good, just not too much! That is certainly the case in the mobile sphere where not too long ago there were perhaps seven "viable" mobile OS contenders (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile/Phone, BlackBerry OS, webOS, MeeGo, and Symbian). Fast forward a couple of months, with HP dumping webOS, Nokia favoring Windows Phone over Symbian, and developers saying "nogo" to MeeGo, and the landscape has consolidated to a more palatable top four. The other major development has been Google's (pending) acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which has all major Android supporters (Samsung, LG, HTC, etc.) scurrying to evaluate alternative options. In fact, Samsung is rumored to have shown interest in acquiring webOS or MeeGo.

So what equals a successful mobile OS strategy? Is Apple's appliance model where it controls much of the ecosystem including OS, hardware, and content/ application validation and distribution — the only option? Can mobile hardware vendors compete without owning the software stack or at least parts of the stack? Clearly the strength of the mobile OS and associated tools and services are critical. However, the real value of the platform is perhaps tied closest to its developer support, both in terms of sheer size and its ability to innovate on the platform. According to research recently conducted by VDC Research among mobile developers, the greatest gap in developer tools and resources in terms of the difference between importance and satisfaction was around the existence of a strong developer community and ecosystem. Not surprisingly, Apple scores best here in comparison to other platforms. This issue is likely one of the key factors driving Google to acquire Motorola Mobility. While the Android platform enjoys unprecedented growth and support (it has quickly emerged as the leading smartphone platform), it has also suffered from platform fragmentation and support issues.

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