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Why the Operating System is all-powerful

gadgets Updated: Aug 18, 2011 12:01 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

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Take heed: the operating system your phone runs is going to dictate sales, fan following, market share – even survival.

We’ll start today with a small memory game: close your eyes and imagine your first mobile phone. Think of the shape, size, screen, features and games on it. Remember how big and heavy it was, how we made do with that little screen and how the most exciting feature other than voice calls was SMS? Now quick, now tell me the name of the operating system. You have no idea, right?

That’s because the OS was immaterial, almost redundant and you really didn’t care which one it was. Each phone brand had its own proprietary user interface; it was tightly closed; no customisation was possible and adding an application was unheard of. We bought a phone and were thrilled that it actually worked. Today, the OS is omnipotent, all powerful and the single most important criterion for buying a phone. We add and subtract apps at lightning speed. It’s a completely different world from a few years ago and this new world is right in the middle of a great battle.

OS supremacy will dictate phone sales, cult following, market share, momentum and even survival. It’s all very delicately balanced right now and is just a precursor for the mayhem ahead.

Windows Phone 7
It made a big noise; there was huge hype; we got great features; and it looked super pretty! Exit klunky interaction of the old Windows Mobile OS, enter smooth, polished interface – Microsoft was back, baby! And yet, Windows Phone hasn’t sold like wildfire or created a firestorm. As yet. It’s now got the world’s number one manufacturer of phones – Nokia – backing it and Nokia makes great hardware. The might and numbers of Nokia, the clout and money of Microsoft: this could set off a blood-curdling skirmish in the smartphone wars.

Future: Many predict the demise and many predict a number one position in less than two years. Micro-kia will do very well and bring in fantastic numbers. Other hardware vendors will then stop Windows Phone production. Nokia will capitalise on this exclusivity and take it even higher. But will it be number one? That’s a toughie.

Samsung Bada
Before it was actually released, Bada was a big joke. After all, Samsung is a South Korean hardware maker. Strangely, they pulled it off. Bada was paired with great hardware and impossibly low prices. It had an iPhonish, clean layout; the TouchWiz interface was simple; there was good social media integration and great games. Yet, chinks in the armour were exposed. The app store was deficient, choices were few and far between, the OS upgrades were slow to come and not everyone was getting the upgrade.

Future:
With its Android-centric business model and great success, Samsung will have trouble being a three mobile OS-company. Yet, it may abandon Windows Phone 7 and take Bada to new heights. It needs to get the app store truly world class to do that.

Blackberry
This is now the dark horse. Those who love them continue to use them like a drug. Yet many are abandoning the platform. Having a Tablet that just didn’t work hasn’t helped. Nor has having strange shenanigans at the top management. They need to move to QNX right away, they need to move off their antiquated looks and form factor and they need to do it now.

Future:
BlackBerry needs to bring in one phone that is completely different and radical in look and feel and style and OS. That’s it. Just one. It may not come back to its former glory but there’s enough going for it to be a contender in the future.

AndroidAndroid

5,50,000 new Android phones sold every day. 40 per cent of the smartphone market share. This seems to be a no-brainer. Android reigns supreme and will continue to dominate. Except that it also continues to make mistakes and make bigger ones. There are too many versions and a wildly inconsistent experience on different phones. Version 3.0 for Tablets hasn’t set the market on fire; the app store quality is suspect; economy Android phones really suck and the ecosystem is still chaotic.



Future:
Google doesn’t make too many mistakes and doesn’t make them for long. Android may not become the OS of choice on Tablets but on phones, it’s going to become stronger and stronger. It’s going to take some pretty strange events happening to dislodge them from number one in the future.

iOS
What can I say here that Steve Jobs hasn’t said already? A phone handmade by God himself, with inputs for the iOS and certainly also a role to play in the marketing of the iPhone. Nothing else can justify the cult following and impact this one phone has had on the world. And iOS 5 will take this forward. From the iCloud, to wireless sync, to your pirated songs becoming legal at a fraction of the cost – this is true momentum.

Future:
To become number one, Apple needs to solve the choice problem. People have different likes and dislikes and just one form factor doesn’t cut it. Also, price points are critical to win this OS war. Software inflexibility and the walled-garden approach will also need to go. Yet, yet, yet – whatever else Apple doom predictors may say – the company seems to sell magic in numbers. Number two for sure, number one if it can pull off a non-Appelish, unforeseen move.

There are others but they all have a slim to no chance. Meego is great as has been proven by the amazing Nokia N9 but it has no vendor backing. Symbian is as dead and buried as it can get. And HP doesn’t seem to be doing very many smart things with Palms webOS. For the rest of them, the deathmatch has just begun.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3. Follow Rajiv on Twitter at twitter.com/RajivMakhni

From HT Brunch, August 14

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