Mobile OS Inflation

February 20, 2010 by
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.

Enjoy.

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