One of the ironies to this reporter regarding the current “investigation” being conducted by the Department of Justice on the mobile phone industry is that there is more of, well everything. There are more handsets available now than ever before, there are options for basic phones, feature phones and smartphones – not to mention options for all sorts of plans including pre-paid phones. And lets not forget the operating systems that power the mobile phones.
But it won’t always be this way, especially in the case of smartphones. At present there are six major handset manufacturers and just as many mobile operating systems. The problem is that smartphones account for about 13 percent of all mobile handset sales worldwide. So while 13 percent of the world market is big, it really isn’t big enough to be divided up by six players.
Our friends at mocoNews via The Washington Post have an interesting article this week that discusses this looming battle. As the article suggests, there will be those that will fail and those that will survive, but even if you’re going out to buy a handset today, don’t worry (yet), none of these players will disappear (anytime soon).
Here is my own take on the big six operating system makers and how each stacks up:
- Nokia – the Finnish company is currently the world’s leader for mobile handsets, and it primarily uses its own Symbian software platform. The company practically invented the concept of a smartphone, but today has everything from basic models to very smart feature phones. This hasn’t been the best year for Nokia, which has had layoffs. And while Nokia still has some smart looking devices, the company could really use a killer app.
- Google – the company that revolutionized search on the desktop has fingers in many pies. Maybe too many for some, and that could be a problem for the big G. Some backlash is already starting, as the word is that the company does many things well, but it isn’t best at anything. The Google Android powered T-Mobile G1 was the one handset last year that outshined the iPhone, but the Android invasion has been slow to materialize, and the follow-up handsets are only now about to land. The final question, is Google out to change the world or conquer it?
- Palm – a decade ago the best accessory for the well-dressed tech startup founder was a Palm Pilot. Eventually, the PDA merged with a phone and the Palm Treo was born. Too bad that the years that followed were more of the same, and while there were new models, most weren’t very memorable. The Palm Pre, however, could be a game changer—especially as the phone managed to lure customers back to Sprint Nextel!
- Research in Motion – the makers of the BlackBerry haven’t had an easy decade. There were periods where it looked like the whole thing would come crashing down like a house of cards. But the company has survived and thrived, in part because it moved beyond the 9am to 10pm work crowd with devices that don’t require a suit. The BlackBerry Dash and Storm are proof that smartphones fit all users.
- Apple – the Apple iPhone might be among the best-known mobile phones around, and is probably the only phone that a large segment of the population can remember by name (including the non-iPhone in their own pocket). And while the ad campaign reminds us there is an app for that, and with each new release people line up for the latest version, the iPhone might never really reach the masses. It can do a lot, but it is currently tethered by numerous restrictions, in part from Apple and in part from AT&T (the sole carrier until Verizon introduces its own models next year). Apple won’t go anywhere, but whether it can completely dominate the market isn’t so clear.
- Microsoft – the Redmond, Wash. software giant has ventured into many things, and where it goes it usually wins. But there is a bit of confusion as Windows Mobile 6 will give way to Windows Mobile 6.5, but only until next year when Windows Mobile 7 comes out, at the same time as Windows 7 to replace the failure that is Windows Vista on the desktop. Confused? So are many Windows users. The other problem is that Microsoft doesn’t make handsets, it makes an operating system for devices. And without solid partnerships the Windows could close.
The other piece of this puzzle is where “open source” fits in? On the mobile platform open source isn’t quite so open as it is on the desktop, but this is still the basis behind the Google Android and Palm OS used on the Palm Pre. This offers fewer restrictions for developers and greater options for the users. ZDnet Asia has run an interesting look at the top 10 reasons why an open source OS might win out.
But don’t expect any of these, including open source, to win out in the short term. None will be voted off – even by the consumers. There is simply too much at stake for these companies, and given that mobile will continue to be the way news, information and entertainment reaches masses around the world, the battle for the handsets won’t end anytime soon. One thing that might change, that 13 percent market share for mobile smartphones will likely increase as more than more handsets get smarter.
Visa Introduces Mobile Notifications
While traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of where you are spending and when, but wouldn’t it be easier to know the good transactions from any potentially bad ones if you received a message as you made the purchase. In fact, this concept is so simple it is one of those “why didn’t someone think of this sooner.”