Musings from the Valley: Mobile OS Roundup

By Dave Ginsburg May 10, 2010

It's been a busy week out here in the sun, what with HP/Palm, the Kin in the hood, and rumors of Motorola doing the Azingo. So, time to update some of the speculations from last fall on Smartphone OSs ... the winners and losers, and the continuing rationalization of the market. At least until the Ouzo-infused rollercoaster ride the market took this week, indicators were bright. And, we seem to be finally taking our place at the mobility table.

Strong Q1 Smartphone sales all around, as reported by Canalys and Strategy Analytics, and no surprises on the Apple, RIM, or Android front. In fact, at least one analyst, Analysis Mason, is now predicting Android will take the lead in 2014. I don't disagree. And, also no surprises from Nokia with their N8..... They continue to disappoint. But what will the announcements from last week mean a year or two out? I'll take a vendor-focused view this time around, and I'm not going to pass judgment on whether vertical integration is the only path forward. We have both today, and in five years, we'll still have both.

Apple (iPhone OS) - Just can't stop the music. At InnoPath we're already adapting our ActiveCare client for OS 4.0, my iPad follows me around like a loyal puppy (in fact, I've written this on it), and every day I discover some new, unique, application. As noted above, you probably won't ever be #1 in volume, but it doesn't matter, does it? You'll continue to rock the industry. Where I live, no one would be caught dead with a smartbook or notebook.

RIM (BB OS) - I use a 9700 and eagerly await OS 6. Nuf' said. Or maybe more to say. Good messaging marketing (the BBM thing) for the younger crowd, but you've yet to gain the imagination of app developers. I joked this morning to my colleagues that I'd not be a good candidate for the rumored tablet since I'd not enjoy staring at a blank homescreen.

Samsung (Android, bada, Windows Phone, Symbian, legacy) - Aggressive on the smartphone front, and two prongs of your strategy seem logical - bada for the lower end, and Android for the rest. We'll see bada as a basis for the Samsung 'experience' via TouchWiz, and Android for a mix including the 'Google Experience'. I'm still not convinced your Window Phone direction is sound, but you've got a big enough footprint and a volume that can support three OSs. However, you seem to have a fourth. Just last month, there were rumors of new (now delayed) Symbian devices in the works. And, you've still got a few random Symbian phones in your inventory, but four is a crowd in this case.

LG (Windows Phone, Android, legacy) - Punch up the volume on smartphones, a failing evidenced in your Q1 results. You are not matching Samsung's messaging on your next OS steps, and selling featurephones into Verizon isn't a long-term strategy. Let's see those Android devices in the marketplace, and think about what to do about the low-end. Given that you are half the size of Samsung, focus only on two OSs. BMP is probably your best bet given your existing product line.

Sony-Ericsson (Windows Phone, Symbian, Android, legacy) - You're still fragmented beyond your volume. The writing was on the wall with the Windows Mobile X2. So, make it official and cut your ties. The X10 Android family… a good start. Symbian (which you can't really walk away from) and Android are sufficient. Cut your losses on your legacy OS, and try to push Symbian downrange for the low- to mid-tier. Or, just acknowledge that you'll be a smaller player moving forward and walk away from the low-end. Heck… if the Chinese want it, they can have it.

Nokia (Symbian, MeeGo, S40) - You've seen Rocky? Or Shatner in Star Trek VI? Got it. You've not got that many times left at bat, and even the dominant silverback of the tribe ages out. Go dark, take MeeGo back into the labs, and come to the market with a kick-ass product when ready. No drabs and dribbles. You alienate the developer and consumer at the same time. I've give you credit for the N8, but do what you can to address the early reviews. We all place high hopes on Symbian, we love the ducks, but just recently took a trip up to Redwood Shores (their US HQ… InnoPath is a member) and there is much work to be done to get everyone pointing in the right direction. Now, I do like where you're taking S40 for developing countries, especially on the application front, and you are probably one of the few companies with the bulk to survive in that space. Keep innovating.

Motorola (Android, legacy) - Smart move with the (rumored) Azingo purchase. You've now got Android for the mid- to top-tier due to the OS footprint, and Azingo's linux for the low-end, replacing your legacy RTOSs. MOTOBLUR can span both. I like your renewed focus.

HTC (Android, Windows Phone, BMP) - Also good focus. Brew Mobile Platform (BMP) at the low-end, Android at the mid- to high-end, and the Sense UI across both where appropriate. Due to legacy, you've got to support Windows Phone. Ok, given that you've not got the legacy featurephone business to worry about.

HP (Palm) - Another good move. No... It won't mean the end of Apple. But I do think it gives you a great tablet platform. I think of you for PCs and laptops.... Not the phone. So leverage it, and don't be overly eager to dump another iPaq onto the market or to ram it into the enterprise. Spend the effort to focus on the application developers. Make it sexy.

Microsoft (KIN, Windows Phone) - I won't repeat most of the bloggers, only to say that I had a bit of a problem understanding your KIN when it was launched, and I've got even more of a problem now. Guys.... Your Windows Phone 7 has legs. Distance it from KIN so your handset partners don't lose the faith. Get some app developers signed up and make it an easy experience (that even my 7 year old can get). I'll give you through 2010 to deliver on the promise made at Barcelona.

David Ginsburg is vide president of marketing at Innopath Software.

Edited by Michael Dinan

Founder, ThiraSystems

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