Nalini Muppala

Analysis, observations, perspectives on mobile space

Smartphone Ecosystem (Part 8): Operating Systems – 2

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The year 2009 has been the coming-out party for Android. There has been a lot of innovation as well as regular updates with exciting features. The scene at Microsoft, on the other hand, has been lackluster. Updates to Windows Mobile were incremental and more service updates than feature upgrades. Microsoft plans to change the situation by starting over on a clean slate with Windows Phone 7. This move is commendable and promises to make Microsoft’s product lean and agile.

With Android on a roll (HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony-Ericsson, Acer, Dell, and Garmin all have Andriod-powered phones coming in the next few months), the fortunes of other OSs depend on the performance of the handset vendors that make or control them. The fate of Microsoft’s embedded OS, on the other hand, does not solely rest with Microsoft – it rides on the success of several handset vendors putting out hit phone models.

HTC, Samsung and LG have made the bulk of Windows Mobile phones in recent years. HTC famously said that it had rolled out 80% of all Windows Mobile phones ever made. Windows Mobile faces an uphill task with HTC inclining towards Android and Samsung starting to move to homegrown Bada. LG phones used to be predominantly Windows Mobile with a sprinkling of Symbian here and there. Although the bulk of latest LG phones are still powered by Windows Mobile, a significant number of them are Android-based.

Garmin’s Nüvi series phones were predominantly Windows-based, some of the later models sport Android. Same story at Dell – Axim was all Windows, Dell’s latest smartphone offering, Mini – is based on Android.

Going forward, it would not be a big surprise if Samsung showed little interest in Windows Mobile. Many phone designs from Samsung that used homegrown processors were powered by Windows Mobile. With Samsung developing its own OS, it would not be a stretch to say that the designers would have made the Bada OS play nice with Samsung’s application processors.

Windows Mobile has made some inroads at Sony-Ericsson, where Symbian was the dominant OS for a long time. Windows Mobile is used in the Satio line of phones and in the Aspen. However, Windows Mobile has lost to Android in the Experia line. The Experia line started with X1 powered by Windows Mobile and Qualcomm MSM7200A, and while Qualcomm is still in the latest Experia X10 phone with its Snapdragon QSD8250, it runs Android OS.

It appears that Android beating Windows Mobile is a trend that should continue at least for this year. The trend might be irreversible unless Microsoft delivers on the impressive promises it has been making about Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 could turn out to be as successful as Windows, if all goes well.

The picture is not all bad for Windows Mobile. It has seen some uptake from traditional PC makers (Acer, Toshiba) and  PND makers (Garmin) vying to become handset makers. However, these players have yet to make a significant impact on the handset market, and their success is not assured.

The combination of Qualcomm silicon and Windows Mobile OS is a recurring theme at many conventional PC vendors. Qualcomm hopes to build on this momentum when Windows Phone 7 starts shipping. Qualcomm hopes to make its platform more complete by offering a tighter integration with an embedded OS – and hence the continued collaboration with Microsoft on Windows Phone 7. The following quote from Steve Mollenkopf, executive vice president of Qualcomm and president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, says it best:

“Qualcomm has a long history of working closely with Microsoft on Windows Phone, and we are continuing this collaboration to support the launches this year of exciting new Windows Phone 7 Series devices based on our Snapdragon chipsets, We are very excited about the next generation of devices that will leverage the synergy of our highly integrated system on a chip solutions and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 Series software.” (February 2010)

Symbian used to be owned and used by many of the majors such as Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Samsung, and Motorola. These days only Nokia is contributing to and using Symbian in a significant way. Although Nokia will be using Maemo in its high-end smartphones, it will continue to use Symbian for its other smartphones and its touchscreen phones. Feature phones from Nokia will also use Symbian to sport more capabilities. Symbian’s share, thus, is not about to evaporate just because some have left the camp.

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Written by Nalini Kumar Muppala

April 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm

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