The phrase “killer feature” is an awfully tired phrase in the smartphone world. Every phone needs one, every smartphone platform must have one, and supposedly we consumers all want one. Now that we have several smartphone platforms vying for our cash, it is more important than ever for smartphone OSes to have that killer feature.
Apple had an advantage when they introduced the iPhone, because the smartphone market was just getting defined. They knew they needed a compelling phone design, and they produced it. The iPhone OS was important too, but not as important as the phone hardware. Apple didn’t take any chances on that advantage lasting forever, though, and the OS was designed with the user in mind, and was much different than anything available at that time. Those days are over though, with smartphones appearing every day and several platforms on the scene to fight for acceptance.
The emergence of new smartphone OSes to compete not only with the iPhone but with industry veteran Microsoft’s Windows Mobile has turned the heat up in the feature department. Handset makers need compelling reasons to go with a given platform, and they are willing to ditch long-time platforms for new ones due to killer features. Palm has their own platform in webOS and they are ditching Windows Mobile going forward. Motorola has already ditched Windows Mobile to embrace the Android platform.
The smartphone OS space is heating up along with smartphone sales. The major platforms are clashing repeatedly, and fighting to get OEMs to embrace their brand of smartphone goodness. Today’s platforms (in no particular order) are:
- Windows Mobile
While you can’t discount the importance of having good handsets to run the OS, for these platforms to be well accepted each must have a compelling feature for the consumer. We can look at these features on a platform basis and get a feel for the future success of each platform.
BlackBerry –– The BlackBerry has always been (and still is) the king of email for mobile users. The interface is now fairly dated, however, so RIM better get busy updating it for the consumer market. They have been successful penetrating the mainstream market due largely to their email support, but as other platforms catch up in this area they will need to do some heavy lifting in the interface design area.
iPhone — The touch interface was Apple’s killer feature when the iPhone was introduced, but no longer. Android and WebOS are now on the scene with good touch design, so the iPhone OS is having to rely on its other killer feature –the App Store. The success of the App Store is unparalleled in the smartphone world and this is not likely to change, despite everyone trying to copy it. Apple needs to give serious thought to innovation in other areas for the long-term development of the OS. The competition is catching up with them in phone OS features in other areas, and Apple better not rely so heavily on the App Store.
Windows Mobile — Microsoft has their hands full trying to make WinMo competitive. They have lagged behind in the touch interface for so long, any innovations they devise in this area will just be catching up with the new guys. The strength of WinMo has long been in the enterprise world, but this is no longer the big growth area. The consumer market is now the big number generator, and WinMo needs something to catch the eyes of consumers. Microsoft’s advantage in the smartphone world has long been the tight integration with Exchange Servers, which led the charge into the enterprise. They’ve licensed that integration to the competition over the years, so that advantage is no longer there. They have to come up with a killer feature for the mainstream, and they might not be able to do it as the competition is so far ahead of them in almost every area.
Android — Google has done a good job with the Android design to make it a competitive platform. Their killer feature is the tight integration with the “Google cloud,” by making Android stand alone with no computer needed to leverage its strengths. This is a feature that no other platform has duplicated, and Google is in a good position to continue developing that independence from the desktop.
webOS– – Palm’s first attempt at a smartphone OS has been a solid one. They combined a good touch interface, something that is required in today’s smartphone market, with innovative features to give it uniqueness. The Synergy technology built into webOS is a good beginning to tie the platform into the social web. Mainstream consumers are flocking to social networks in great numbers, and Synergy can be leveraged to take full advantage of that phenomenon. It is important that Palm continue this development as webOS evolves.
S60 — Long the OS for the Nokia product line, S60 is stretched at the seams in the current smartphone segment. S60 has evolved from the feature phone world, and it is simply not capable to handle today’s sophisticated smartphones. Nokia realizes this, which is no doubt behind their recent foray into the Maemo platform. The S60 OS may go away entirely, and Nokia needs to make sure that Maemo is a solid competitor to the other OSes. Nokia has a tendency to rely on their huge global handset sales to rest on their laurels, but if they wish to seriously compete in the smartphone arena they’d better get Maemo ready to compete.