Nalini Muppala

Analysis, observations, perspectives on mobile space

Smartphone Ecosystem (Part 7): Operating Systems – 1

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Opinions differ on what capabilities a device needs to have in order to be classified as a smartphone. In every case, such features are well beyond what can be found in a feature phone. An embedded operating system (OS) empowers a smartphone to perform tasks that were previously known to require the capabilities of a personal computer (PC). Apple famously put a PC-class OS in the iPhone and declared that this act would revolutionize the industry. It sure did.

Market share

The OS share closely reflects the smartphone device market share discussed in a previous post. Symbian, Windows Mobile, Android, and Linux/Maemo are used by more than one device maker. BlackBerry, the iPhone OS, and WebOS are proprietary and used by RIM, Apple, and Palm in their respective handsets.

Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System in 2009 (Thousands of Units)

The iPhone OS, BlackBerry, and Android witnessed enviable growth at that expense of market share losses at Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Linux. Palm’s WebOS made its debut in 2009 and has yet to gain traction in terms of market share.

Apple has proved beyond doubt that a tight integration of hardware and OS is necessary for an elegant user experience. After Google decided to work closely with handset vendors (first with Motorola and then with HTC) on its Android platform, one could say that Windows Mobile is the only OS that does not have the indispensable feedback and the insider know-how from handset designers. Until recently, effectively, Microsoft was the only OS vendor without its own handset in the market. Sure, Microsoft has been the dominant OS vendor for PCs without making its own hardware. The smartphone ecosystem works in a different way, though – for starters, it is much easier to switch phones and thus the OS than to switch from Windows to say Mac OS or Linux. Microsoft is unique in another important way too – it is the only embedded OS vendor that licenses and gets paid for its OS; the rest are either free or are not licensed to others.

Smartphone operating systems

With Samsung’s Bada OS starting to show up in various Samsung smartphones and Samsung promising to take it to more touchscreen and feature phones in its portfolio, the distinction of a Smartphone OS is poised to blur this year. Bada will enter the above table when 2010 numbers are crunched.

Palm’s WebOS received rave reviews and attracted customers, resulting in some success for the company’s Pre and Pixi phones. The company hopes to reverse the slowing sales with Pre Plus and Pixi Plus. Although the upgraded models are a step in the right direction, unless it attains critical mass in the near future, Palm is likely to become an acquisition target for someone that wishes to ride on Palm’s brand name, the elegance of WebOS, and the strengths of its HTML foundation. I would not be surprised to see consolidation in this fragmented market.

BlackBerry used to be an email-centric OS, but it has been evolving to provide user experience comparable to trendsetters like the iPhone OS and Android. Both Nokia and RIM have recently purchased niche companies to spruce up their user experience for Web services

Thus in the above table, of the vertically integrated OSs, only WebOS seems to be facing imminent danger of becoming irrelevant. In the next post, we will look at the churn in non-integrated OSs.

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Written by Nalini Kumar Muppala

April 14, 2010 at 9:00 pm

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