If I were to ask you what operating system your computer runs on, chances are that you could answer without a second’s pause. But if I were to ask you the same question about your mobile phone, it’s likely that you would draw a blank. And who could blame you, really? Even if you were familiar with the names of five, or maybe even ten Mobile Operating Systems (OS), knowing which one runs on your phone is a challenge because of a lack of standardization and consolidation in the mobile industry. It’s clear that we’re moving into this new territory of Mobile Computing where even today’s low-end mobile phone is more powerful than many of the early PCs (CPU power and memory).
What will it take for Mobile Computing to become reality? Imagine a world where mobile phone users everywhere intuitively know what their mobile handset has to offer and how to use all the new power at their fingertips. A reality where applications, that simplify a consumer’s daily life, will be the primary reason for buying a new mobile phone – and the aesthetic sex appeal of the mobile handset takes a distant second. A reality where there would be fewer, more uniform mobile operating systems, just like the PC. Needless to say, many things have to come in play for Mobile Computing to take hold and be embraced by masses. I will devote some of my next few blogs to this topic. Let’s begin with the issue of the Mobile OS.
The Mobile OS is one of the few topic where the metaphor “variety is the spice of life” does not apply. While there are enough claims by “industry experts” for each new OS launch that it will become the unifying factor, much like MS DOS, there are an equal number of claims, if not more, that such universal integration will not occur. Since the beginning of 2008 alone, at least three new mobile operating systems, including iPhone, LiMo, and Google’s Android, have been released. As if the existing plethora of proprietary operating systems (Microsoft Windows Mobile, Nokia’s recent purchase Symbian, J2ME and its various incompatible cousins, Qualcomm BREW and Mobile Linux) were not enough.
Theoretically, in the worldwide mobile industry, where four to five hundred new handsets are launched every year, the market would weed out less common or less popular operating systems in favor of moving towards a somewhat unified platform. The results are just the opposite, as new ones keep coming out of the woodwork while the old ones continue to linger, thereby forcing application developers to support several operating systems in order to become marketable. Can you imagine the plight of mobile application developers who have to support all these environments? The test matrix for supporting a single application across most of these operating systems is almost cost prohibitive.
The only beneficiaries of this rapid and rampant deployment of new mobile operating systems are the OS developers and the press, who gains yet another product subject to write about. However, this situation leaves virtually everyone else on the losing side. It’s time for all mobile software developers and users to rise together and begin boycotting new Mobile OSs rather than embracing them. It’s time for every mobile phone consumer out there to be aware of the operating system their phone uses – and its limitations – and demand a unified platform so that the era of Mobile Computing can become a stabilized evolution for new applications.
R. Paul Singh
CEO, PixSense, Inc.