Smartphone OS Proliferation: When Will The Madness Stop?

Remember the days of the desktop/notebook world?  It was a much simpler time, with Microsoft as the dominant OS, a few (but fiercely loyal) Apple users and a small, die-hard Linux contingency.  There were more contenders, but I won’t mention their names, lest I be accused of living in the past.

Not so in the smartphone market.  While the desktop/notebook OS world converged, the smartphone OS world seems to be diverging.  And there doesn’t seem to be an end in site.

You want proof?

Exhibit A: The Originals

  • PalmOS is the elder statesment of the group.  Still out there with devices like the Centro but definitely in the minority.  In 2009, Palm announced that there would be no more devices with PalmOS.  Okay, one down.
  • RIM’s BlackBerry is certainly a major play in the enterprise world, thanks to its expansive security and control capabilities.  It also has the largest smartphone share in the US, although slipping as of late.  Their recently announced OS 6.0 offering is targeting more features of the newer smartphones, especially the updated browser based on Webkit.
  • Symbian is the most popular smartphone OS in the world, albeit hardly seen in the US.  In 2010, it officially went open source but has been losing ground to some of the newer operating systems.  Still, Symbian is trying to close the gap with a new look and feel and OEMs like Nokia and Sony Ericsson will continue to use it in their product lines.
  • Windows Mobile is still important to many Microsoft-centric enterprises.  It is also the dominant OS in the ruggedized/industrial grade handheld market.  However, it has been losing market share to many of the newer OS’s.

Exhibit B: The Johny-come-latelies

  • Apple’s iPhone OS, or now iOS, has made an unprecedented impact on the smartphone market. Its user interface, built-in sensors, and phenomenal browser experience has changed the mobile handheld space forever.  Initially positioned as a consumer device, it is more and more finding its way into the enterprise.
  • Android from Google has made significant splash on the scene.  It is also one of the fastest growing mobile OS as well, with products like the Droid, Incredible, and Droid X.  Much like the iPhone, Android is experiencing explosive growth, with many analysts picking it to be the second largest smartphone OS in only a few years.
  • Palm introduced webOS to replace its PalmOS product. It is based on Linux and its applications are written in web technologies such as JavaScript, HTML, and AJAX.  Although it is only available on a few devices (Pre, Pixi). the new owner HP seems to be intent on exploiting webOS across its hardware lines.

Exhibit C: The Newcomers

  • MeeGo is a new collaboration between Nokia (Maemo) and Intel (Moblin).  Nokia Nseries devices will move from Symbian to the newer MeeGo platform.  Look for the first Meego Smartphone to be the Nokia N9 scheduled for October 2010.
  • Samsung’s bada is a newcomer marketed as the OS which will bring folks from the feature phone into the smartphone arena.  The first bada phone was the Wave (S8500) that was launched in Europe in May of 2010.
  • Windows Phone 7 is Microsoft’s new OS.  It is a total and complete rewrite (with no apps backwardly compatible with Windows Mobile) with the expected touchscreen and the new look of “tiles” and “hubs”.  Reports are that the first phones will be released some time towards the end of 2010.

Is your head spinning now?  How is an enterprise supposed to be progressive and accommodating with a lineup like this?  I see visions of fragmentation, high costs, and support nightmares dancing in your head.

This a great win for consumers, as now they have a wide variety of options to select from.  However, it is a nightmare for enterprises who are trying satisfy their ‘prosumer’ employees while struggling to secure and manage them.  The days of mandating end-user computing are quickly fading.  Show me an IT department with an inflexible technology policy and I’ll show you a bunch of unhappy employees that will figure out how to bypass your controls.

Luckily, there are a few bright spots:

  • Many platforms have built-in support for Exchange ActiveSync, a definite benefit since a large number of enterprises using Exchange.
  • There are a number of mobile device management tools that secure and control multiple OS platforms.  Look for those companies who already support multiple platforms and the rate at which they adopt new ones.  Some companies to investigate are Credant, Good Technology, MobileIron, Sybase (acquired by SAP), and Trust Digital (acquired by McAfee).

It seems like the market is too crowded and at some point it will start to self-correct.  I thought that a few years ago.  Now we have three new smartphone OS platform launches in 2010 alone.

Welcome to the new norm.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Android, bada, BlackBerry, iPhone, MeeGo, Mobile Device Management, Symbian, WebOS, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7

3 Comments on “Smartphone OS Proliferation: When Will The Madness Stop?”

  1. Bob Says:

    Yes they are certainly keeping us on our toes! Here at Wump http://www.wumpy.co.uk we are on the fron line of this and are investing heavily to keep up sto speed with all the latest technologies for mobile websites.

  2. Nick Says:

    Let’s be fair to the equation. Many of these are replacements (WinMo to WinPho, Symbian to MeeGo, PalmOS to WebOS). iOS (iPhone) and Android are the big game changers, and yea, those by themselves put challenges on the enterprise. The enterprise will maintain RIM devices as they always have, and they’re trying to sort out the rest. Again – iOS and Android, check. WinPho has a shot at it. bada is a weird experiment that I think will prove too little, too late.

    • Randy Nunez Says:

      Yes, several appear to be replacements. However, I do think some will continue to live on. Symbian has a significant worldwide market share and Windows Mobile will be living on in the ruggedized world for some time. Maybe at some point we’ll get down to only five…


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