Monday, September 26, 2011

Which Mobile OS?

When you look at the dozens of phones available to you, what do you look for; the physical device, with it's mirror-like screen and brushed aluminium finish, or do you consider what makes each phone perform the myriad tasks you intend performing? If you haven't thought in these terms, you should. You're about to lay down a sizable chunk of your hard earned cash, or tie yourself into an expensive 24 month contract, and you should really know what you're buying.

To me, it's all about the software. These days, the main manufacturers are all capable of making exceptional devices that vary little from each other in terms of hardware. However, the software is constantly evolving and improving, and if you pick the right phone, you'll continue to get updates and upgrades that will improve your experience, and even after 2 years, you won't feel like you're stuck with old technology.

As can be seen from the graph of worldwide 2011 Q2 smartphone sales to end users by operating system, according to Gartner, Android has clearly captured the lion's share of the market, up 13,3% since 2010, with its multiple manufacturer support from Samsung, HTC, Motorolla, LG and Sony Ericsson. However, Google's purchase of Motorolla could spell trouble for Android if the other manufacturers feel like they're not getting equal treatment and start looking to other OS's for their premium models. Android has another problem, and that is despite regular update to the core OS, these often aren't rolled out to every device, and it's left to the manufacturers, and then the carriers to decide which phones should get upgraded. Google are trying to address this problem, and it may improve with their newer phones.

Symbian may be in 2nd place, but don't be fooled. Symbian is in freefall, losing more than 10% in the last year, and down from complete market domination just 4 years ago, when they held 63,5%.

Apple's iOS takes 3rd place, and considering they essentially only have a single, premium handset (plus a discounted previous generation model) available, that's pretty good. iOS is actually still gaining market share, and I expect continued growth as the next generation is made available to more carriers in the key US market. The launch of iOS5 and the next generation iPhone will also see renewed demand for the iconic device. Where Apple really scores is that they release software updates directly to the customer, so everyone gets to run the latest version all the time, and Apple continue to make their software backwards compatible for several generations.

RIM hold on to 4th place with their Blackberry range, but they're down nearly 4% since a high of nearly 20% in 2009, and despite popularity with text hungry teens, management problems continue to plague the company that was once considered the trendsetter. Their OS is dated; the newly released Blackberry 7 is too little, too late. Blackberry QNX might save them, but launch timing has been pushed out numerous times, so don't hold your breath. 

The dark horse is Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. While it hasn't captured much share yet, Nokia will launch a range of phones before the end of 2011, which may turn things around for the software giant. They've also recently launched a preview of Windows 8, which will use a common format, borrowed from Phone 7, across all devices, from desktops to tablets and mobile phones. This is huge - who wouldn't want a phone that looks and acts just like all their other devices, and sync up seamlessly via the cloud? The jury is still out on whether the UI is suitable for non-touch screens, but regardless, the tie-up with Nokia will be sufficient to see some substantial growth over the next 2 years.

So where does this leave us? There is room for 3, maybe 4 OS's in the market. Why not more? Key to the success of any modern OS is the availability of apps to run on these devices, and developers will not support an infinite number of systems. Android and Apple currently rule the roost, so it'll be between Phone 7 and Blackberry OS to take 3rd. My money would be on Phone 7, because Microsoft have too much money to let it fail. That will leave Blackberry to battle on in 4th place, with a shrinking market share.

So when you're confronted with all those shiny new phones that promise so much, think about where those brands will be in a years time, because you don't want to be stuck with a device that is no longer supported.

Thanks for reading.