Mobile Monday London: Mobile OS Platforms

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Last night I was at Mobile Monday London where the theme was mobile platforms. The event was sponsored by Ubuntu (Canonical).

The event was started with a short presentation by Victor Palau, VP of Phone and Hyperscale Delivery at Canonical where he quickly got to the question of whether the new Mobile OSs such as Ubuntu, Jolla and Firefox can "make it". His argument was that the current few major players (Apple and Google) are now killing innovation in that new features tend to be new apps rather than changes to the OS. This presents an opportunity for disruption. However, he warned that any challengers to iOS and Android need to be attractive to operators, OEMs and end users.

Next, Andreas Constantinou gave a short ‘Top 10 insights’ from Vision Mobile’s latest (Q3 2013) developer economics that are out today. There was so much content that I’ll cover this another time.

A panel session followed chaired by Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight and consisting of Alex Sinclair of the GSMA, David Wood at Delta Wisdom (formerly Symbian), Andreas Constantinou of Vision Mobile, Victor Palau of Canonical and Christian Heilmann from Mozilla Corporation.

Here are the main points I found interesting…

  • Firefox’s mobile OS is targeting those people who don’t already have a smartphone and can’t afford iOS and Android.
  • There was a question whether new open Linux-based OSs would succeed given past failed attempts by LiMo and LiPS. It was claimed better management and consistent messages to operators might prove more successful this time.
  • David Wood observed that all mobile OSs have a lifetime beyond which they become less easy to extend to new innovations.
  • Andreas reiterated and stressed Victor’s previous comments that any new OS needs to be attractive to OEMs, developers, operators and end users.  Geoff gave Windows Phone as an example of a platform that hasn’t achieved this.
  • Alex said that the new OSs should be more attractive to operators because they should be able to use their own OTT services and not have to compete with Google/Apple services.
  • Enterprise represents a third of the app economy.
  • There was much discussion about HTML5 with Andreas saying someone had compared it to a car without brakes (i.e. runnaway memory that’s not able to be monitored). He also said a recent study showed only 1 in 4 Android Play store apps could be developed (for technical reasons) in HTML5.
  • Good reasons for having further OSs included re-balancing profits across the industry and leveling competition but ironically, more OSs means more fragmentation - something Android and iOS have improved on compared to pre-iOS days.
  • There was the question whether new OSs can compete when they don’t have the key 3rd party apps (e.g. Skype, Google Maps, Facebook).
  • Recent news events related to privacy also caused some speculation as to whether a new OS could take a stance as being more secure or at least more transparent with respect to data privacy.
My personal take is that the new mobile OSs will see small market shares. There’s nothing compelling for the parties (OEMs, developers, operators and end users) to make them switch. Microsoft has shown that being different or spending lots of marketing money isn’t enough any more. I believe the next hugely successful mobile OS (and there will be one) will involve a step change in either hardware design, input methods or something else. The current contenders (or even current incumbents) might evolve into that OS but the current new OS incarnations aren’t that OS yet.

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