Monday, December 12, 2005

Dean Bubley: Smartphone OS debates

Dean Bubley posts a lengthy meme about the smartphone OS battle for supremacy at his Disruptive Wireless blog. In a nutshell, Bubley believes "heterogeneity in mobile phone OS is permanent. At the bare minimum, Nokia will continue to champion Symbian, Motorola will push Linux, HTC is making a good living with Windows Mobile, and assorted proprietary OS's continue to make traction because consumers don't care." He then states:

It doesn't matter if 2008's coolest phone runs on FORTRAN or has a dozen monkeys with abacuses inside it. People will buy it, the way they bought the Moto RAZR, because it's cool. And therefore operators will clamour to sell it, irrespective of their internal goals to reduce the number of OS's they support.
Bubley sees the action happening at the "application platform" layer, such as Java and BREW, which can work "on top of" multiple OS's. Bubley sees:
various new attempts by the Java and GSM communities to create essentially a "BREW clone, but without having to deal with Qualcomm". The OMTP and the approach of firms like SavaJe exemplify this. I see Qualcomm itself use its success in 3G chipsets and possibly its UIone interface solution to subtly push BREW towards wider acceptability anyway. I see DoCoMo getting greater traction with iMode (and maybe FOMA in the future?), and the Koreans seemed very enthused about the possibility of exporting WIPI. Arguably, even higher-level software layers like Macromedia Flash Lite, and Surfkitchen's & Action Engines' UI tools could be counted in this category too. If it didn't have more pressing concerns, I would have expected RIM to be playing harder here as well.
With all this happening, Bubley feels the underlying Os's are "heading towards commoditisation" like chipsets, "the type of battery, the audio chip and a 100 other things." In the end he thinks "that OS's are not major differentiators for manufacturers" and asseses the various players by positing:
I have a feeling that Symbian may end up as a loser here. It's notable that Panasonic has shifted allegiance from Symbian to Linux this week, and that the Koreans I spoke to a couple of weeks back had tested - and rejected - WIPI-on-Symbian.

Microsoft's position is more obscure, but its focus on IT-type applications and more corporate-aimed devices may mean it runs parallel to the more consumer/content-centric WIPI/Brew/Java/i-Mode debate.

Linux seems to be a potential long-run winner (recent developments in APIs and standards are helping), but it "isn't as easy as it looks" seems to be a familiar refrain in my research. A newly-revitalised SavaJe is an outside bet, but my general belief is that all this means proprietary OS platforms still have several years' breathing space in front of them.