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Other Smart Phone Platforms Too

Part 6 :  Should you also consider Windows Phone 7?  Blackberry?  Nokia?  Or any others?

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 you.

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 consideration?

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 player.

For now, it continues to be a two-horse race between the iPhone and the various Android powered phones.

Other OSs - Are They Relevant

In a word, no.  In two words, probably not.  But let's quickly look at five possible contenders.

First, we should understand why there are unlikely to be a lot of different phone operating systems.

Developer Constraints

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 channels.

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 purchasers.

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 environment.

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 functions).

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 computer marketplace.


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 footprint.

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 page.


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 Playbook.

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 iOS products.

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.

As 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 marketplace.

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 Symbian

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 Android.

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 Symbian accordingly.

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 Moblin OS.

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.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 4 Nov 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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Should you choose an Android based smartphone or iOS based Apple iPhone
Part 1 :  Introduction, Executive Overview, History
Part 2 :  The unnecessary restrictions imposed on you by Apple if choosing an iPhone
Part 3 :  Hardware issues between Android and iPhones
Part 4 :  Performance and Compatibility issues
Part 5 :  Market shares and trends
Part 6 :  Other OS choices for smartphones
Part 7 :  Pricing and Conclusion

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