Mobile operating systems are something which, unsurprisingly, we know rather a bit about. Last night (15th July), we popped along to the MoMo London event asking whether a new set of Davids can emerge to challenge the incumbent Goliaths. This, in the software world, is an age old question. Each software generation has the new kid on the block wanting to change the old (well, seven year mobile) world order.
As ever with Mobile Monday events, the panel knew what they were talking about. Chaired by Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight, the panel consisted of Alex Sinclair, CTO at GSMA; David Wood, principal at Delta Wisdom (formerly Symbian catalyst and futurist); Andreas Constantinou, MD at Vision Mobile; Victor Palau, VP of phone and hyperscale delivery at Canonical (behind the Ubuntu OS) and finally Christian Heilmann, principal developer evangelist at Mozilla Corporation.
The discussion largely focused on whether or not it is right that two companies (effectively) extract most of the money out of the mobile industry. Both Palau and Heilmann were of the opinion that in feature phone (emerging) markets, new platforms could have the biggest chance of success. Clearly, this is an intelligent strategy. If you are going to throw a stone, aim it at the optimum spot.
Wood made the point that prior to Android and iOS dominating the smartphone space, one of the biggest problems in the market was OS fragmentation. Whilst he agreed that Android and iOS have a grip on the market and are challenging the status quo of the past where operators held the power, there are advantages to the current situation.
Overall, the conversation focused on the importance of open platforms and giving users choice. Thinking back though, when Apple introduced the iPhone the push was HTML5 apps – did it work? Not exactly, the developer tools weren’t there and the standards were still too young (in tech terms.) Android, an open platform, has been modified by virtually every OEM to provide a unique experience. There are now well over 4,000 Android handsets on the market – that’s a lot of consumer choice.
Personally speaking – other ‘choice’ is available from both Microsoft’s Windows Phone and BlackBerry. Whilst Windows Phone is increasing its market share, it’s a big battle for the number three space. Even within Android, there is only one major provider. The point is that choice does exist but consumers will ultimately go for the phone that their friends recommend, they’ve seen in adverts and reviews or that they get sold by retailers.
Whilst it would be great to live in a world where apps run on any device, it is not the world we live in. Sure there are open web standards, but even between web browsers, there are some websites which don’t work properly on all machines. We live in a world with increasing diversification with Smart TVs, smart cars, game consoles with apps and now wearable technology. One size fits all is a nice ideal, but there are too many compromises involved.
HTML5 has a huge amount of potential and promise but as Constantinou pointed out, out of the 100 top Android apps, only one-in-four could be developed in HTML5. Much of the problem here is down to the developer tools available and services that feed into the apps. The world isn’t black and white. There are huge amounts of grey areas where emerging platforms can find their niche and their fans. Both Ubuntu and Tizen are highly exciting from an early adopter perspective. Both have a huge amount of fans in the industry. The point is though, so did WebOS, MeeGo and Bada.
Back to the question of whether a David can topple the goliaths. It’s a very tough question. A mobile OS is more than just an OS. It’s an entire ecosystem of apps, music, movies, services and features. Being a new player requires a huge amount of consumer education about the benefits of the platform. In markets where feature phones still rule and iPhones are too expensive for mass adoption, yes new platforms could make an impact – but in those markets, they aren’t competing against Apple or Google’s Goliath anyway.
By Robert Haslam, PR and account manager

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