On the desktop front there are really just two operating systems, OK, technically three. There is Microsoft Windows and there is the Mac OS X, and of course there is the open source Linux. It could be argued that the various versions of each of these further complicate matters. But what can run on Windows XP can usually run on Windows Vista, and much of what can run on Windows can even run on Linux, and for nearly everything business-related there is usually some version for the Mac too.
So why on the mobile side of things do we have Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, the iPhone, Palm, Symbian and now Google Android. Throw in that some phones further confuse the issues with proprietary features and factor in the whole JM2 and BREW holdovers from just a couple of years ago, and mobile has a lot of operating systems. And while companies such as Dell or HP can just say, “we make PCs that run Windows, and if you want to do Linux that is your business,” carriers don’t have it so easy.
But let’s back up. Verizon doesn’t actually make the phones, it is just the carrier. To further complicate matters, other than Apple, which makes both the iPhone and its OS, the situation isn’t quite as simple as a comparison to PCs. Various third-party vendors, including major players such as Palm, LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson make the phones.
But apparently enough is enough. This week at the CTIA 2009 trade show Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg noted this as a major issue, addressing the platform fragmentation as part of his keynote address. He said that this “interoperable environment” is actually impairing development. Once this is resolved, he believes innovation will come.
Not to disagree with Seidenberg, but there is almost too much innovation on the mobile side. This has slowed as the economy has ground to a halt, but in the past, consumers were being enticed with opportunities to replace their handsets often before contracts were even up. Meanwhile, replacing a PC every two years was considered crazy.
PC Magazine’s Sascha Segan’s brought up a point in his post on this, where he says that the success of Windows made for mass adoption of the PC, but that perhaps Microsoft failed to innovate, which brought on the resurgence of the Mac OS X. Of course part of that was clever ad campaigns, not to mention the success of the iPod that made people who never bought an Apple product suddenly think differently about the other products from the House of Jobs.
Personally, I think there are too many mobile phone operating systems. This is bad news for developers of applications, who will need to spend more time just “porting” these from system to system. And instead of taking the time to truly come up with that ultimate “killer app,” everything will be less innovative because it will need to work on multiple systems. Not so say the iPhone users, who now have thousands of apps to choose from. But let’s see how many of those app makers will be left standing in a year, in two years or in five years.
Choice is a good thing, but as phones are seemingly being used for everything there has to be some limits. I’m not saying that anyone should be forced to stop making an operating system, but in the long run this won’t lead to more innovation, it could lead to less innovation. Eventually something will have to give, and some will have to power down.