Smartphone OS Wars- Who will win?

The world is witnessing a rapid surge in the penetration of smartphones. Between Q2 2009- Q2 2010, the worldwide smartphone penetration increased from 14% to 19% and analysts estimate that US smartphone penetration will cross the 50% mark in 2011. As a result, there is high competition between players to gain the largest share of this market.

Yesterday’s launch of Windows Phone 7 by Microsoft is all set to intensify the battle for gaining control over the highly fragmented and volatile smartphone OS market. Till a few years back, Symbian, the mobile OS from Nokia, ruled the roost with no significant threat to its supremacy. However, the successful launch and rising uptake of iPhone and Andorid, along with the continued popularity of Research in Motion (RIM) have changed the dynamics of this space significantly. Symbian’s market share has been falling steadily, and stands at 41%, where as that of RIM, Android, and iOS (iPhone operating system) has risen to 18%, 17%, and 14% respectively. The resurrection of the Windows mobile platform (which was first launched in 2003, rapidly gained market share, and then fizzled out in the face of high competition) is expected to add fuel to the fire.

Though going ahead it is tough to predict which smartphone OS will grab the largest share of the pie, one thing is for certain, the larger smartphone ecosystem- which includes device manufacturers, consumers, applications developers, and carriers- will be the eventual winner.

For device manufacturers, the availability of new operating systems implies wider options. Earlier, they were largely limited to using linux, developing proprietary OS, or adopting the widely popular Symbian platform. Each of these options was either too costly, not rich enough for a great smartphone experience, or developer unfriendly. Today, handset vendors have a variety of choices such as Android, Windows Phone 7, LiMo (open, hardware-independent, Linux-based operating system for mobile devices), and MeeGo (a joint initiative of Intel and Nokia). Most of these operating systems are based on open standards and therefore enable device manufacturers to customize their models. Moreover, these platforms offer a rich and highly social user experience. These factors will significantly help handset vendors generate user traction and boost sales.

Applications developers will have more choices than ever before to develop and monetize innovative applications. The concept of application stores, pioneered by the iPhone has spread like wildfire and all major platforms offer one. Developers can either choose specific platforms, such as Android or iPhone, to develop on, or offer their applications on a wider range of app stores. Though the latter entails more work in terms of porting applications for different platforms, it also offers higher revenue potential.

Carriers too, will be the beneficiaries of the smartphone OS wars. Majority of these platforms are designed to drive the usage of rich content, social media, multiplayer gaming, geo location services, and a whole range of applications. All this directly translates to incremental data revenue for operators. In addition, an enhanced user experience will help carriers increase stickiness thereby reducing subscriber churn.

In the end, the customer is always the king. And so is the case in the highly competitive smartphone landscape. A wide range of handsets to choose from, a slew of features, competitive pricing, thousands of applications, exceptional connectivity, rich multimedia, and enhanced productivity- there is so much more for customers to look forward too!

What’s your take?

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About the Author: Priyank Nandan is a telecom and media consultant based out of Mumbai, India (however the views expressed here are purely his own). Prior to his stint in Management Consulting, he worked for a global IT products company in various roles. Priyank is passionate about the converging telecom and media industry and closely follows this space. You can reach or follow him at: email: priyank.nandan@gmail.com , Twitter: @priyanknandan, blog: http://doorbhaash.blogspot.com

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