Open Season for Mobile Operating Systems

Carl Weinschenk

Carl Weinschenk spoke with Lee Allen, research analyst for The Diffusion Group. The company's report, "Advanced Mobile Operating Systems: Analysis & Forecasts," says Symbian will not remain the dominant mobile operating system.


Weinschenk: What were the most important findings of the report?
Allen: There are two main trends that emerged from our research. One of them is the rise of Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0. The reason this is likely to be significant is the way in which Microsoft is tightly integrating Windows Mobile 5 with other Microsoft platforms. To the extent an organization has committed to the Microsoft architecture, the emergence of Windows Mobile 5 will be very significant because it will be integrated into that architecture. Everyone else is trying to figure out how to make their architectures play well in the enterprise. A device running on Windows Mobile 5 will be just another endpoint. The other major point that comes to mind is the rise of Linux in this space. Part of this is the extension of enterprise and consumer interest in Linux as an alternative to Microsoft. The second is that Linux has always had strong grassroots support. [These developers are] simply finding some advantages for Linux development in the mobile space. I have Symbian share starting to decrease in 2006. I have it declining as the market takes off in other parts of world, particularly China, and Linux is getting more of the play than Symbian and Microsoft. So Symbian is not keeping up with the growth.


Weinschenk: So the whole scenario is almost the diametric opposite of how OSs developed on the PC side?
Allen: As I look back at the PC, we see an emerging platform. Microsoft was the one that allowed this platform to emerge. They were there at the right place at the right time with something adequate to the task. They were the enabler of a phenomenon that was going to happen. With mobile devices, this is a preexisting environment with major players in it. What really is driving this is a set of evolutionary changes after 3G, which I hesitatingly call 4G - there is no convergence on the term 4G. The changes that really are driving this are the adoption of IP natively in the network, the ability to seamlessly roam not only location-wise - from the U.S. to Canada or something like that - but to be able to roam from one access method to another access method, the ability to roam from WiMax to W-CDMA and so on and maintain your call. There'll be many different kinds of devices. There will be heterogeneity in devices. The cell phone is only one variant of mobile devices.


Weinschenk: Does 3G, which is far more demanding than previous mobile platforms, represent a break point that will distinguish between the OSs?
Allen: In this kind of world, the kind of functionality and applications that people are interested in are increasing in complexity by at least one order of magnitude. We are looking at an OS that needs to handle these functions. A change in the environment causes a change in the ecosystem. The set of characteristics that enabled dominance before has changed. The requirement for dominance in the ecosystem has changed.

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