The Smartphone OS Bubble


Yesterday, Palm released update 1.1 for its new webOS platform. The new functionality, according to Philippe Winthrop-an analyst with Strategy Analytics who posts on the Enterprise Mobility Matters blog-makes the OS more viable for the enterprise.

Winthrop says that the updates enable policy enforcement for remote wiping, PINs/passwords, inactivity timeouts and improved certificate handling. Winthrop quotes from an InformationWeek news article that cites examples of what the Pre now can do.

The race for enterprise smartphone supremacy comes, of course, within the bigger context of the fate of smartphone OSes in general. The Washington Post, via mocoNews. net, suggests that the happily chaotic landscape is unlikely to settle down anytime soon. The writer first points out that there are six major OS players in a sector that represents only 13 percent of all cell phones.


The writer then cites directly contradictory media reports-or their headlines, at least-that alternately trumpet the supremacy and/or bear sad tidings of the impending doom of OSes from Nokia, Research in Motion, Microsoft and the iPhone. The webOS, perhaps too young for such treatment, wasn't mentioned.


The success or failure of an operating system is mostly dependent on its quality, of course. But there are other factors. Yesterday, I blogged on the question of exclusive contracts between vendors and cellular carriers, for instance. Whether a device (and its OS) is tethered to one carrier or is free to play the entire field is a decision -- often, a make-or-break decision -- made by the vendor that doesn't deal directly with how good the OS is. It's a sales and marketing decision.


It seems obvious, however, that vendors are only improving their long-term prospects by making their OSes enterprise-friendly. Optimizing every option seems an especially prudent strategy in such a roiling environment.


The current situation is unique: While it is universally acknowledged that the smartphone segment is the growth engine of the cellular market -- and one of the few bright spots in the entire telecom constellation -- it is still a small sector. It also is acknowledged to be a Petri dish of operating system creativity.


The only thing that is certain is that change will come. The market will not support six major smartphone operating systems in the long term. Some may disappear, some may consolidate, and some may consign themselves to niches. Eventually, the smartphone OS market will settle down to dull battles over gains and losses of a market share point or two. The best advice is to enjoy this mercurial and dramatic environment while it lasts.