Mobile OS Inflation

February 20, 2010 by · Comments Off on Mobile OS Inflation
Filed under: Technology 

During this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world’s most important mobile trade show, everyone seemed to think that a new OS (Operating System) is the way to go.  It is unclear to me what makes them think that.

First, I’m a bit tired of the overuse of the OS nomenclature.  Few deserve this title since they are really adding proprietary layers on top of Linux.  Actually most do, even the beloved Android and iPhone.  They should all be called “platforms”.  However that is not the cause of my outrage. No.

Second, who does the branding for these things?  Symbian, Bada, MeeGo, Mobiln, MeeMo, LiMo, Else, and others in addition to the successful iPhone, RIM, and Android.  My favorite name in a sarcastic kind of way will have to be “Windows 7 Phone Series”.  Redmond finally got something that does not deserve bashing throughout the blogsphere – a la Vista – and decides to use it everywhere.  I get it, kind of makes sense.  But, my fellow follower (singular) Windows 7 has a nice ring to it.  Windows 7 Phone Series does not, I’m sorry.

Third is that application developers have better things to do than to port their app to the “OS” of the day. And who is thinking about users? Thanks to this inflation you will have to scavenge the world to find the right app if you made the mistake to buy a platform that didn’t quite make it for whatever reason.  Now that is an outrage, but not the point of my post.  Suffice it to say that there will be plenty of casualties in these OS’s flood.

Amidst this Mobile OS inflation there is one that in my opinion deserves mention:  MeeGo.  Sure, the name sucks but I’ll have to give it some points for obscure geekyness.  A shape-shifting 9000-year old alien from the planet Marmazon 4.0 has to attract the dormant or not so dormant geek in most smartphone users, from the Blackberry suits to the Android hoodys.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t suffer the fate of the CBS sitcom who didn’t get the chance to finish a single season mostly because it wasn’t any good.

Anyway, MeeGo is worth mentioning not because of the fact that it is a joint venture between Nokia and Intel.  MeeGo is a platform that promises to bring smartphones to the 2010’s by using an x86 architecture instead of the perpetual ARM.  x86 architectures are ubiquitous in the PC world whereas ARM architectures have their humble roots in the embedded world (you know watches, sensors, WiFi radios, set top boxes, routers, cellphones – Ok, not so humble).   ARM uses RISC – Reduced Instruction Set Computing – vs x86’s CISC – Complex Instruction Set Computing.  This difference has allowed computers to run more complex software and algorithms so they can behave like, well, computers.  ARM on the other hand is fundamentally more power efficient, which explains its huge presence in mobility.

Until now the lowest x86 has gone is Intel’s Atom family (which drove the netbook “revolution”).  What is so new about the Atom family?  Low power consumption in an x86 processor.  At the same time, Qualcomm has been touting its Snapdragon 1 GHz+ Arm based systems – base for the reference design of my favorite name Windows 7 Phone Series – and now powering some “smartbooks” (again with the naming).

You see what’s happening under the hood?  New product categories are being launched, OS inflation is flooding the mobile world but at its real core there is a tremendous collision happening.  ARM getting more powerful while x86 is getting more efficient.  This brings us back to why MeeGo is so significant for the industry.

x86 based phones are out there but none has really made a mark basically because they haven’t offered anything new.  In this blogger’s very humble opinion if Nokia-Intel get it right (which is a big “if”) this could be the next revolution in mobility: the power of a real computer in the palm of your hand.  With html 5, 4G networks, ubiquitous 802.11n WiFi,  comparative shopping, location based services, “billions upon billions” of webpages, will now be available to complex software thanks to CISC based smartphones.  By the middle of this starting decade we will all wonder what was the hype behind all these “clever-phones” that could barely browse the web.  We will remember them as we now think of the first color Mac’s.  Very cool but just a sign of what’s to come.



Microsoft Getting Smart about Smartphones

February 3, 2010 by · Comments Off on Microsoft Getting Smart about Smartphones
Filed under: Technology 

Well, it was just a matter of time.  PC World reported that Microsoft will announce its own smartphone in the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona this month.  I guess the pandemic of iPhone envy is hitting everyone hard.  This one promises to be interesting since it will allegedly be based on the Zune music player and the Windows 7 Phone platform.  All good.  Until now Microsoft’s strategy was OEM friendly.  LG, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and others have introduced Microsoft based smartphones of varying success positioning Microsoft’s mobile OS as the 4th player (soon to be 5th thanks to Android) in the smartphone category (after RIM, Apple, and Symbian).

This strategy represents a hardware/software branded device from Microsoft in a sense competing with its own OEMs.  All those companies however have not shown any loyalty to the Redmond folks since they have diversified or totally migrated to the Android platform.  So I guess Balmer decided: Screw them I will go Google … sorry I will do like Apple … not really, I will do my own hardware and control my own destiny.   Good move?  We’ll see.  But definitely not a bad one or a move that will damage any OEM relationships.  The world is ready for a diversity in OSs and the smartphone category is the fastest growing category in the industry.  Microsoft cannot afford to be the fifth.

The question is:  Will this make a difference?  Not likely.

Microsoft has by far the largest market share in the enterprise – with “big Windows”, not smartphones, that privilege belongs to RIM.  It boasts millions upon millions of applications and it is the “standard” enterprise Operating System.  These are not 99 cent apps, no! These represent real money for enterprises and Microsoft.  A simple copy of Office may go for hundreds of dollars.  Why? because it is the defacto standard (for now).  The smartphone world behaves very different.  With the exception of email and a couple of minor “connectors” to ERP systems there are very few apps for the enterprise.  In fact Windows Mobile today has the largest number of  enterprise ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) but they specialize in niche applications like inventory, supply chain, delivery, fleet management, etc.  The devices these apps run on are not your typical HTC smartphone Fender edition but very specialized hardware made by Motorola and others.

The thing is:  The Microsoft name, which carries a lot of weight in the enterprise, does not represent a mayority choice for the consumers as it does in PCs or in those niche applications.  The perception of a “standard” OS with millions of applications does not exist in the Smarthphone world.  There are millions of apps for several OSs, in fact lots of apps are available for most smartphone OSs (paradoxically Windows Phone is typically the last one to be developed).  So my contention is that even if Microsoft comes up with a killer device it is an uphill battle to go after RIM, iPhone, Symbian, and Android.  It may much better than OEM versions since Microsoft has intimate knowledge of hardware and software to make it so, but it will hardly take the world by storm as its competitors have.

Good luck Microsoft and thanks for giving us all something to write about and for another great opportunity for a clever Apple commercial.  I’m sure there’s a map for that somewhere.