To virtualize or not, seems to be the question for most operators and handset manufactures according to the panel discussing the topic at our Mobilize 2010 event in San Francisco today. The panel appeared divided with Srinivas Krishnamurti, senior director for mobile solutions at VMware noting that there isn’t yet a use case that has led to widespread virtualization, the abstracting of hardware from the operating system, on handsets. This statement was quickly countered by Steve Subar, president and CEO of Open Kernel Labs, which has installed its virtualization software on 700 million handsets. There are 700 million use cases right there, with the primary drive so far being the ability to provide a smartphone-like experience at feature-phone like costs.
Subar explained that the Motorola Evoke was the first virtualized handset on the market two years ago. The virtualization enabled Motorola to save $40 on the cost of materials and resulted in a $200 price reduction on the handset for the end consumer. However, providing cheap handsets isn’t the only role for virtualization; the large use case will likely be centered around providing a dual-OS device for enterprise employees who want to carry a personal phone. Instead of carrying a company-supplied BlackBerry and an Android phone virtualization enables a phone that could run both.
It also can offer more security by segmenting out certain elements of the software and placing them in areas where they are not subject to attacks or eavesdropping that might interfere or infect an operating system. As a result one can create a more secure phone, or keep certain elements of the phone off of a vulnerable operating system. However, this is an emerging opportunity as noted by Yoram Salinger of Red Bend Software, calling it the second stage of mobile phone virtualization.