Smart Phone Platforms Too
Part 6 : Should you also consider
Windows Phone 7? Blackberry? Nokia? Or any
An HTC model phone that
runs Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 OS. This may be
the only survivor of the too many other smart phone
operating systems currently available.
This article is part of a
series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone
and helping you choose which would be the best option for
Please read through other
parts in the series - see links on the right.
This series so far has
concentrated on Apple's iOS and the competing Android OS as
platforms for smart phones.
But there are many other
contenders. Are any of these also worthy of your
We quickly look at five other
hopeful smart phone OS products, but find only one (Windows
Phone 7) with any possible chance of becoming a viable ongoing
For now, it continues to be a
two-horse race between the iPhone and the various Android
Other OSs - Are They Relevant
In a word, no. In two
words, probably not. But let's quickly look at five possible
First, we should understand why there are unlikely to be a
lot of different phone operating systems.
One of the key driving
factors in the success or failure of any phone operating system
is the variety of third party software available for the phone.
The more apps that are available, the more confident people feel
in buying a phone based on that operating system.
But for developers, it
requires a measurable increase of development resource to
develop an application to run on multiple operating systems, and
then to promote/market their application to each of those
different environments and through each of the different sales
After sales support also
becomes massively more complex if more hardware and OS
environments must be supported.
Most developers essentially
end up having to choose between a faster development cycle for
their product, with it being available on only one or two OS
platforms, or a slower development cycle with it being available
on a greater number of platforms.
For sensible and
understandable business reasons, most developers would prefer to
focus their resource on just one or two platforms, and creating
the best products for those platforms with the tightest
development cycle and best feature sets.
So the developers themselves
are reluctant to support an endless number of OS options.
A few will limit themselves only to the market dominant OS,
which is iOS.
Many more will note that
there are now more Android than iOS phones being sold every
month, and so will use this as a reason either to add an Android
based version of their product, or even to focus primarily on
Android solutions into the future.
A few will decide to support
a third platform too - and indeed, some will even be
'incentivized' by the platform developer to do so.
But how many will choose to
support a fourth and fifth (and even sixth and seventh) platform?
Fewer and fewer.
There may be room in the
market for a third OS (again, similar to personal computers
where it could be said there are three OSs - Windows, Mac, and
Linux). We definitely see both iOS and Android as
surviving, but we hesitate to predict which, if any, of the
other five 'also ran' OSs may continue into the future.
Here's a quick explanation
of each of the five other smartphone OS contenders.
Microsoft Windows Phone 7
It is too soon to tell if
Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 (WP7) operating system
will succeed where Microsoft has already so spectacularly
failed, twice (with its earlier smart phone OS and its very
short lived bizarre 'Kin' device earlier this year).
Certainly, if the past is
any predictor of the future, there is no reason to expect any
future success from Microsoft at all, an expectation reinforced
still further by the almost total lack of success of its Zune
music player product.
On the other hand, Microsoft
has a massive promotional budget to encourage developers to
support this new platform, to get product into the marketplace,
and to build an awareness and interest among potential
But its awkward efforts to
appear 'cool' seem only slightly more convincing than its
earlier efforts with the Zune and Kin products.
Perhaps most important of
all, the late release of WP7 makes it appear as a 'me too'
product rather than as a marketplace innovator and a 'must have'
product. There is nothing that is importantly unique in
the WP7 feature set that creates any type of compelling reason
for people to choose a WP7 phone in preference to an iOS or
Android based phone.
At this early stage, it is
impossible to predict the outcome of Microsoft's new product.
Suffice it to say that if the first flash of interest in WP7
doesn't translate into good steady market share capture, it will
be doomed to the same sort of irrelevance that was experienced
by earlier versions of the OS.
Microsoft's strategy - find
the middle ground?
Perhaps the most notable,
and one of the more subtle, element of Microsoft's approach is
that it seeks to create a middle ground between the rigidly
controlled/closed Apple environment and the totally open Android
This is similar to the
personal computer world. Again, we see Apple with a
totally closed offering (its Mac range of computers), and
instead of Android, we see the Linux world with its totally open
world (interestingly, Android is based on a Linux core set of
With personal computers,
Microsoft has come to dominate by providing a quality controlled
operating system (some would debate the extent of the quality
control present!) to provide a moderately stable and clearly
defined middle layer, below which hardware manufacturers know
how to design their hardware, and above which software
developers know how to design their software.
The evolutionary process is
slightly different with phones, though. With computers,
the open Linux environment was the last of the 'big three' OS
platforms to appear, and it has struggled to find a marketplace
role because for most people, the Microsoft approach has been
perfectly satisfactory and the 'quality control' and
consistently offered by Windows has been appreciated and valued.
Linux appeared late, and
offered a 'solution' to a 'problem' which very few people
perceived. It has received little support from software
developers, hardware manufacturers, and is little understood or
appreciated by the ordinary typical computer user/purchaser.
But with phones, it is
Microsoft that is coming late to the market, and perhaps because
of the timing, it is now Microsoft that is offering a 'solution'
to a 'problem' which very few phone purchasers perceive.
It is now Microsoft that must get support from the hardware and
software developers - for sure, it managed to incentivize a
reasonable number of hardware manufacturers to release Windows
Phone 7 versions of their hardware to start with, but it has
very little software, and unless it can keep a flow of new
hardware and rapidly get critical mass in terms of software, it
may find itself occupying the much smaller 'afterthought' role
in the phone marketplace the same way Linux does in the personal
On the plus side, it will be
supported by more than a single hardware manufacturer, and by
more than a single wireless company, and its developer -
Microsoft - has a massive marketing budget and marketplace
Also on the possibly plus
side is Microsoft's attempt to exploit the middle ground between
the totally closed Apple environment at one extreme and the
so-called anarchistic totally open Android environment at the
other extreme. It remains to be seen if this is an issue
the buying public give much importance to.
On the minus side, it is
late to market, and Microsoft has an unbroken record of failure
in the phone (and MP3) markets to date.
However, all in all, we feel
that this may be the 'most likely to succeed' of the five
alternate smart phone operating systems we consider on this
Blackberry is in danger of
becoming a 'one trick pony'. Their trick, dating back to
the release of their 5810 in 2002, was to provide a
handheld/pocket sized device for reading and sending email,
complete with a keyboard that presented as an acceptable
compromise between size and functionality.
Over time, their products
evolved to add phone capabilities and then some very basic
internet browsing too. More recently, they have added
further capabilities (including GPS receivers and cameras) but
their interface has been increasingly dated, and the
capabilities of both their email and web browsing products
increasingly out of touch with state of the art.
Their newest product, the
Torch 9800, was released in August 2010 and represents as
Blackberry's response to the new paradigm defined and dominated
by iOS and Android.
The phone has been
criticized as being underpowered, with a too-small screen (3.2"
compared to 3.5" and up to as large as 4.3"), low resolution
(480x360 compared to 960x640 or 800 x 480) and nothing exciting
or new. It would have been a worthy competitor to the 2009
generation of competing phones, but it was already out of date
when launched in August 2010.
It also lacks the wide range
of applications enjoyed by iOS and Android phones.
As such, it provides an
upgrade path for died-in-the-wool lovers of Blackberries, but it
provides little reason for a person new to the world of
smartphones to choose it over a better iOS or Android device.
Blackberry may also be
developing a totally different operating system to replace its
now long-in-the-tooth Blackberry OS, what it currently calls QNX
It bought QNX from a third party in April 2009 and is using a
version of it to power its new tablet style product, the
The timing of when
Blackberry will release a QNX based smartphone is unclear, and
where it will be positioned in terms of comparable feature sets
subsequent to its release is similarly uncertain.
Blackberry and its two
different OS products have a major problem to regain their
earlier leadership. They no longer have any unique or
'must have' features and slowly but surely their corporate
customers are at best opening their systems to competitors and
at worst, displacing their Blackberry products with Android or
Blackberry will always be
further limited due to being available only from one hardware
source (ie itself).
The high tech marketplace is
littered with the corpses of companies that shot into brilliant
prominence, but which then faded and disappeared into obscurity. At
present, Blackberry seems to be steadily losing market share and
market momentum in what threatens to be an unstoppable and
increasing death spiral.
such, it has little to appeal to application developers and we
so, notwithstanding its past successes, we do not view it as a viable future contender.
Palm and WebOS
Palm is a company that had a
series of ups and downs during its 15 year life. It
initially made a name for itself selling Palm Pilot PDA devices,
starting in 1996, and for a while was the market pioneer and
leader in that field.
These devices evolved to add
a wireless data capability, and subsequent a voice capability
too. They also had a strong marketplace for third party
apps, greatly enhancing the things the units could be used for.
Palm became a major factor in the smartphone market with the
introduction of their Treo 600 and Treo 650 models, released in
2003 and 2004.
At the time, they were
definitely 'best of breed' smartphones, but Palm then seemed to
become stalled and while it released some new phones, it did
nothing to enhance the underlying Palm OS, and inexorably,
rather like what has been observed with Blackberry over the last
few years, it lost market share and relevance.
After many delays, Palm
released a successor to its Palm OS in mid 2009, what it called
WebOS. Unfortunately, it seems that the long delays in
getting this product to the market fatally weakened the company,
and eventually it put itself up for sale and was sold to Hewlett
Packard in April 2010.
There was considerable
speculation as to why HP paid $1.2 billion for Palm, with much
conjecture centered around HP simply wanting to buy up the
valuable collection of patents that Palm had been granted.
But HP announced a new update to WebOS in late October 2010, and
claim to have plans to build a number of different devices based
on this OS, ranging from phones to tablets to printers.
It seems to us that HP has
an impossibly difficult task ahead of it. There is no
longer much of an installed base of Palm branded smart phones to
upgrade, there is no longer much respect or loyalty for the
Palm/HP webOS, and, like Blackberry, it is constrained by being
a single hardware partner for its own OS.
Unlike Blackberry, it
doesn't have a huge installed base to build on, and HP is only
tangentially thought of as a leading player in the phone
To repeat, it seems to us
that HP has an impossibly difficult task ahead. We do not
predict much success for the webOS product.
Nokia has had a fractured
approach to smartphone operating systems. It is one of a
group of hardware manufacturers (along with Fujitsu, Huawei, LG,
Samsung, Sharp and Sony Ericsson) who participate, to a greater
or lesser extent, in the Symbian operating system. This OS
evolved out of the Psion PDA of the 1980s, and first appeared in
Nokia phones way back in 2001, and was released as open source
in February 2010.
As is intuitively obvious,
Symbian has gone through a huge amount of evolution over the
years. Less obvious is the lack of commitment manifested
by many of the founding participants of Symbian based phones
(with some now much more active in developing Android based
phones), and the OS has struggled to adopt a more modern
multi-touch gesture sensitive screen based interface.
Symbian based smartphones
are perhaps not quite as smart as other smartphones, but they
are also the most popular type of smartphone in the world.
However, their popularity is plunging. Worldwide,
Symbian's share of new phone sales dropped from 52% for 2008
overall, to 47% for 2009 overall, and further down to 41% for
the second quarter of 2010.
It is hard to get an
accurate feeling for how many apps exist for Symbian, but I'll
estimate more than 10,000 and less than 50,000, generally of a
more trivial and less sophisticated nature than many for iOS and
Longer term, Symbian's
greatest two strengths - low cost devices and Nokia's support -
both seem to be at risk. Android phones are now given away
with two year contracts, and Nokia's commitment to Symbian seems
to be reducing. Symbian appears to be an OS that has now
reached the end of its development path.
Most of the other companies
that once participated in the Symbian alliance have either
abandoned it or downgraded their role, while embracing Android
as an alternative platform for the future.
And what about Nokia itself?
How can Symbian survive alongside MeeGo? Won't Nokia have
to choose just one OS and stick with that.
We can't see much future for
Nokia Maemo and MeeGo OSs
Nokia has also been
developing an alternate more modern OS, Maemo. This first
appeared in 2005, and has been steadily upgraded subsequently.
In February 2010 Intel and
Nokia announced their plans to merge together their separate OS
development activities, creating a new product, MeeGo, which
combined key elements of both Nokia's Maemo OS and Intel's
MeeGo now represents the
future of Nokia's second entry into the smartphone OS
marketplace and is replacing Maemo. MeeGo is intended to
operate on multiple platforms, including inside vehicles,
tablets and netbooks (as well as smartphones).
It is very unclear how many
Meego apps currently are available, and phones using the MeeGo
OS are far and few between too.
Nokia has been having a very
difficult time trying to re-invent itself, and attempting to
avoid getting trapped at the low (and least profitable) end of
the phone handset market.
Some commentators have suggested
Nokia should abandon its own OS entirely and instead base its
future phones on Android, the same as most of its competitors.
We're not sure we expect
Nokia to do that, even though we too see great sense in such a
strategy. But, whether Nokia abandons it or not, we have grave doubts
about the viability of MeeGo as a smartphone OS.
This article is part of a
series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone and
helping you choose which would be the best option for you.
Please read through other parts in the series - see links at the
top right of this article.
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published 4 Nov 2010, last update
21 Jul 2020
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