Posted by: Craig Mathias
Android, BlackBerry, cloud computing, Google, Linus, Meego, mobile operating systems, mobile OS, Palm, Symbian, Web services, WebOS, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone 7 Series
My history with operating systems goes way back to my time in college, when I was a systems programmer – writing operating systems, communications code, and generally caring a lot about machine architecture and such. Today, however, most people really don’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) give their OS a second thought; today it’s all about the applications. That’s why I can easily use Linux on the road – I’ve got Firefox and OpenOffice; what more do I really need? I use a Mac for its speed and mostly its reliability; I actually like the Windows user interface better. But Windows (I don’t have a lot of experience with Windows 7 yet; I’ll wait for SP1 and then we’ll see) itself is slow, buggy, complex, and generally unreliable, so I’ve phased it out here for critical production use. Regardless, I don’t spend a lot time anymore thinking about traditional operating systems.
Except on handsets. The world of mobile OSes is like the world of the PC back in the early ‘80s, with lots of competitors, claims, and counterclaims. Do we really need 20+ mobile operating systems? No, of course not, and a shakeout is inevitable. This is important – if you run an SMB, you don’t want to end up with a staff skilled in technology that isn’t going anywhere, and then not only have to buy new handsets, but also re-train everyone as well.
And so my fearless predictions for the future of mobile platforms: Blackberry has a huge installed base, but RIM is at a cost disadvantage having to build its own unique BlackBerry OS. They’ll eventually switch to Linux, but their platform and user interface will remain relatively stable except for evolution dictated by competition. The iPhone OS will also evolve, and will continue to remain its own little world. Apple is perhaps the only company today that can get away with that. On the other hand, Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone 7 Series and Symbian are likely going to be marginalized; Symbian is viewed as being old technology, and Windows Mobile is just expensive, with the WM 7 version just announced clearly little more than an effort to keep up with the iPhone. Ditto, likely, for Palm’s interesting WebOS – it just won’t get the traction it needs to survive. All of these will disappear over time.
But that leaves Linux, again, as a key direction. Linux is free, open-source, and programmers around the world know and like it. But which Linux? Don’t assume that Google’s efforts here (primarily Android) will dominate – Google is a marketing company and many of us are suspicious of their gathering of all kinds of personal data, no matter what they say. There are lots of other Linux distributions that will likely have a significant impact – for example, I’ve got my eye on the Intel/Nokia joint venture which merges their Linux efforts (Moblin and Maemo, respectively) into Meego, what might very well become a powerhouse OS for smartphones and well beyond.
So my money is personally on Linux, with the evolved BlackBerry OS and MacOS on the iPhone also surviving if not prospering. It will take 3-5 years before we know which version of Linux ultimately dominates the mobile space, but I’d be really surprised if Linux didn’t have at least 65% market share of all handsets by 2015.
And, ultimately, the mobile OS will dimply disappear into the woodwork – I expect that most handsets will just be front ends for Web and cloud services, as is the case with many, many apps today. But that’s a topic for another day.