The Year of the New Mobile Operating System

Allowing easier access to Web services is relevant to the software on the phones. Microsoft says that some handset makers and operators are interested in Windows Mobile because of its support of popular Microsoft services like Live IM and Hotmail for mobile users. Google has a whole host of services that it targets at mobile users, from which it hopes to earn advertising dollars. And Apple has cleverly linked the use of the iPhone and its software with iTunes, where customers can buy content.

All of these changes represent a major challenge for many operators. Some operators have in the last year or so said they want to support just a couple of operating systems as a way to cut costs related to support and training, Hazelton said. "I think carriers are kind of backing down on the demand that there be fewer platforms," he said, as a result of the new software hitting the market.

The additional operating systems might also pose a problem for application developers. "It will be hard for application developers to pick," Hazelton said. Developers don't always focus on just one platform, but there will be so many operating systems in the mobile space that it will be difficult for them to choose which will be the most popular. For now in the U.S., BlackBerry and Windows Mobile have the largest developer base and that should continue in the foreseeable future, he said.

But the new operating systems should also serve to grow the number of developers, Horn said. Developers will continue to have to make bets about which platform will pay off. "That's always been the case. Developers say, 'where's the biggest market for my talents and which market has the lowest cost to enter.' In many ways, it's an economically driven decision for developers," Horn said.

The experts agree that the new operating systems don't pose a threat to any particular existing platform provider. "The more entrants in the near term means faster growth in the category, driving us all up collectively," Horn said. "There will be big players and there will be niche players, we'll see different business models."

Hazelton agreed. "There's more a benefit than a threat because it serves to broaden awareness of smartphones," he said.

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