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Summary:

Adoption of smartphones by consumers has pushed them to tremendous growth. In spite of the number of smartphones in the marketplace, until yesterday you could count the number of significant OSes using a few fingers. The smartphone playing field has changed, and not just a little.

Smartphones

Smartphones are in a tremendous growth period, with adoption by mainstream consumers fueling sales. As phones become more like handheld computers, the operating system that powers them becomes more important. In spite of the number of smartphones in the marketplace, until yesterday you could count the number of significant OSes using just a few fingers. That has changed due to a number of announcements coming out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week. The smartphone playing field has changed, and not just a little.

Until the announcements yesterday, the smartphone landscape could be defined by five major platforms. These OSes power the lion’s share of smartphones in consumer’s hands. In no particular order the short list was: BlackBerry, iPhone, webOS, Windows Mobile and Android. Depending on who you might ask, webOS and Windows Mobile were both flagging behind the others, and some were even writing off the ability of the two platforms to compete with the others.

A few major announcements coming out of the MWC have dramatically changed the smartphone landscape, and for the better. The smartphone playing field just got more competitive, and that is always a good thing for consumers. Here is my list of competitive smartphone platforms as of today, in no particular order.

BlackBerry -- RIM has made tremendous inroads into the consumer space, and while growth has flagged recently the BlackBerry is still a platform to be reckoned with. We will continue to see the BlackBerry on every major carrier globally.

Android — Google’s phone platform continues to be the darling of the smartphone world, and this will not change. Many of the top smartphones being produced today are running Android, and Google’s insane development pace will insure that continues. Most top handset OEMs are focusing tightly on Android for future products.

iPhone — Apple will continue to sell millions of iPhones, lack of multi-tasking and Flash notwithstanding. The iPhone continues to grow market share in the smartphone space, and this will continue.

webOS — Palm made a big splash last year with the first innovative smartphone OS to come along in a while, but it was not enough to drive sales numbers significant enough to gain big market share. While the future of webOS is not etched in stone, Palm will continue to be around for the foreseeable future, along with webOS.

Windows Phone 7 — Microsoft made a big splash with the big unveiling of the next smartphone OS from Redmond. Windows Phone 7 shows a tremendous amount of promise, and will likely be a big factor in the continuing smartphone wars. Many were willing to write off the long-term viability of the Windows Mobile platform, but no longer after this week’s announcement of Windows Phone 7. Details of the new platform have not all been divulged, but it’s a safe bet that Microsoft will increase market share once Windows Phone 7 actually hits the market.

Symbian 3 — Nokia’s Symbian platform has never been considered a true smartphone OS, even Nokia has been using Maemo for its own high-end smartphones. That will likely change as the company has just announced Symbian 3, the next major version for the company. Preliminary views have it looking a lot like the iPhone interface, and it is clear Nokia intends to use it to penetrate the smartphone consumer space. Nokia is the 800-pound gorilla in the phone world, and Symbian 3 will be a force to be reckoned with from that standpoint alone.

Meego — A new smartphone platform was just announced that has potential to rock things up in the space. Meego is a joint effort between Intel and Nokia that merges Moblin from the former and Maemo from the latter. The resultant open source smartphone/ tablet platform has the potential to make significant inroads into the smartphone arena, simply due to the two giant companies behind it. This new OS will likely make its way onto smartphones soon, and can potentially become a genuine player.

These are by no means the only smartphone OSes out there, but they are the ones I believe will be significant players going forward. The standard platforms are still on this list, but the newcomers that take a place due to recent events should not be overlooked.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

The App Developer’s Guide to Choosing a Mobile Platform

  1. Two questions:
    1. What about Samsung’s BADA, apparently this is the smart phone OS for “less capable” smart phones?
    2. With Meego, what happens to LIMO? Both are being supported by the Linux Foundation. Will LIMO be absorbed into Meego?

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      1. BADA is so new that not many outside of Samsung are really paying attention yet. That could change, of course.

      2. Neither company has said anything about LiMo yet. Adobe just joined LiMo so along with all the other major players LiMo is too big to go away. It’s not on my list as outside of Asia (big market, granted) it doesn’t have much presence.

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  2. “These OSes power the lion’s share of smartphones in consumer’s hands. In no particular order the short list was: BlackBerry, iPhone, webOS, Windows Mobile and Android.”

    That may be true in the US, but outside the US, webOS simply doesn’t exist (thanks Palm for not selling the Pre in a GSM form outside the US!) and Symbian dominates.

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  3. C’mon James, really? “Nokia’s Symbian platform has never been considered a true smartphone OS, even Nokia has been using Maemo for its own high-end smartphones.” Nokia’s Symbian platform was one of the first true smartphones, just that many consumers had no clue how much power they had in their hands. They were doing things on smartphones before most everyone else and continue to lead around the world with about 40% of the worldwide market share. Granted, they have little to no influence here in the US and maybe you should have started your article stating that you were focusing on the US market.

    That said, Maemo (now called Meebo) and Symbian^3 devices will be excellent devices and have a look and feel similar to all the other new players, but I still highly doubt there will be much influence in the US for years to come.

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  4. THe 2 posters above beat me to the punch RE [1] what about Symbian? and [2] webOS being a “major OS”??

    To say Symbian has never been seen as a smartphone OS is just silly – Maemo has only just come out & being used in the N900, Symbian has been powering smartphones for years.

    A rare slip, I think.

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  5. I hear what you’re all saying about Symbian and you’re right, Symbian phones have been capable smartphones for years. The perception though, is that it is a feature phone OS due probably to its start. In any event, Symbian 3 looks really good for smartphones, by anyone’s standards.

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    1. James, I think this comment reflects a very American-centric point of view. Spend some time in Europe or with Europeans and watch them (even 3 years ago) use their S60 handsets the way Americans have used WinMo and Blackberries for years.

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  6. Hi James,

    Matt beat me to commenting about your Symbian remarks.

    If you look at the high end Symbian phones, such as the Nseries and the recent Eseries devices, for years they blew away many other phones…at least on features.

    Although you might not like Symbian (and I’m not a fan of its Series 60 Fifth Edition ease-of-use), it’s a very big deal for smartphones overseas. Symbian had thousands of applications before the iPhone existed.

    I wish Nokia would come up with a killer physical design for an Nseries phone, though, for the U.S.

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  7. Personally, I don’t think a new browser is enough to keep RIM on top. They need to go the Palm/MS route and completely start over, in my book.

    Their OS is just horribly clunky right now. It does great email and messaging, but not much else.

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  8. None of the people in the first picture on the site is actually using a smartphone. Are you trying to say that the smartphone landscape is changing by the mass reversion to flip phones? :)

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  9. Symbian has been around for a while and does have the biggest worldwide marketshare, yes…but in how many forms, now?

    UIQ, Series 40, Series 80, and of course, Series 60 in its various editions. It’s only recently that everything Symbian has even been consolidated into a more cohesive platform.

    As for Maemo, it’s hardly “just released with the N900″, unless you’re only limiting yourself to smartphones. Remember the Nokia 770, N800, and N810 Internet Tablets? Maemo was originally meant for those, none of which had a phone…then Maemo 5 totally shook things up with a new UI and broken backwards compatibility (neither N800 nor N810 can run Maemo 5 without a significant backporting effort, and many apps needed to be tweaked and recompiled for Maemo 5).

    Too bad it hasn’t been released on something other than the N900, though. Make no mistake-the N900 is one heck of a device. However, I would’ve preferred the larger screens of the N800 and N810.

    Back to the topic at hand-when I do get a smartphone, and this is only because they don’t make unconnected PDAs/pocket computers any more, I’ll still be sticking to tried-and-true Windows Mobile because it still evokes that PDA feel best (even though Windows Phone 7 is going in a very different direction, to my dismay). At the rate things are going, there won’t be any suitable alternatives…maybe except for Maemo-er, MeeGo (not sure I can get over that name change).

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    1. As for Maemo, it’s hardly “just released with the N900″, unless you’re only limiting yourself to smartphones. Remember the Nokia 770, N800, and N810 Internet Tablets

      You’re correct that Maemo was used in the internet tablets – I was specifically referring to Maemo used in a smartphone, hence my “just released” comment. I should have been clearer.

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  10. A very nice post, thank you, but indeed we Americans have to sometimes be careful to remember that America is not the center of the planet (even though it feels that way sometimes) … for example, I was speaking with someone in California who has developed an iPhone app last year and he is now also making that app available for Android. He said to me that he thinks Microsoft is late to the party with Windows Phone 7 Series. This is very short term thinking on his part. Late to the party? The smart phone market is now only starting to take off and it has a lot of growth ahead of it (it amazes me how short term people and especially American can sometimes be with their thinking which often reflects in problems like the subprime and credit crisis) For example, if you take, more appropriately, a decadal view, then there is no way Microsoft is too late to the party with Windows Phone 7 Series, such talk is mere balderdash and should be filtered to the bit bucket. Also another thing a lot of people (all who want to be futurists) are forgetting which is that there is going to be churn. What this means is that after two to four years, owners of smart phones and communication tablets will want to upgrade to new models or try something new. People do this with automobiles all the time — they own a car for a while then they trade it in or sell it to a used car dealer and buy something new. Who is to say that if a person owns an iPhone that after three or four years they might not switch and try out an Android or Windows Phone 7 or MeeGo or Symbian or WebOS phone? Eric Schmidt (in one of your other posts) said it clearly that the phone is becoming part of a person’s identity / alter ego (sorry I forgot the exact quote but that’s essentially what he said). So this is like the automobile — people buy their cars in part because what they drive says something about who they are, it becomes part of identity. So if you look at the car industry as a model, the smart phone could have some parallels (so long as its easy for the consumer to sync each and every phone type to her/his data which is why the cloud becomes ever more important and Google (and probably Microsoft) get this big time while Apple needs work with MobileMe.

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