The Apple OS vs. the Windows OS raged as the dominant technology war in the 1990s. Today, the Windows OS appears to be going on social security with the failed launch of Vista and the hurried up release of Windows 7. Windows, once the up and coming darling is now the evil empire. Apple’s OS while suffering from many of the same legacy software issues such as security does a much better job in designing and marketing that most people don’t notice it much. But we grow weary of these players and look to the next battlefield – mobile phones where the operating system becomes equally important. But you ask why have mobile phones been around for twenty years and yet the OS has not been mainline news? The answer – computer-like capabilities are now on the mobile phone. When started, the mobile phone made calls and that was it. Today, they not only make calls, but also take and store photographs and video, play music, surf the web, and so much more that an operating system is now needed. Thus the battle begins – which OS? How much openness is needed? How much ease of use? What standards to set in applications? And the list goes on which defines the battle ground for the next step of technology wars.
Just as in the PC wars, so the operating system landscape appears to be shaping up in a similar way. In the PC days, we started with DOS. A basic, rudimentary, close to the iron software that worked well enough for simple tasks. In the mobile phone world, Symbian fits this role. Then came Apple’s OS with a better GUI and the landscape changed. The iPhone comes with a nice user interface from Apple. While Windows had a response with its Windows Mobile, it’s Google who provides the compelling response with its Android. In the PC days, Apple was closed and Microsoft countered with an open OS called Windows. In the mobile phone days, it’s Google’s Android that provides the openness developers require. Google will be the primary competitor to Apple, not Microsoft.
The operating system is core to the growth of the Smartphone – the segment of the mobile phone market that will grow from $39 billion in 2007 to $95 billion in 2013. While current efforts focus on the hardware – flip phone vs. multitouch screens vs. QWERTY keyboards, and more, the focus will soon shift to software, services, and content.
RIM is also a current player but they remind me of Lotus 1-2-3 for the early PC. Lotus defined the term “killer app” which is an application that drove both hardware platform sales as well as the application itself. RIM is the Lotus 1-2-3 of the mobile phone world in which users buy the phone so they can access their email, but that’s about it. The screen, layout, OS, and more won’t support them in the long haul.