The recent launch of the Nokia N8 and their revamped S^3 OS and the imminent launch of Windows Phone 7 handsets got me thinking, does the market have the capacity for 4 major operating systems? Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and Nokia’s Symbian 3; do we really need that many differently functioning smartphones? Note that I’m excluding BlackBerry from this discussion as I still feel that RIM’s smartphones are targeted more at businesses than the general mass market consumers.
To be fair to them, Nokia was the first one in the mobile industry with their Symbian OS that adapted quite well to their smartphones. I still remember getting my E71 and being amazed at its capacity to do so much, and yet it was nowhere near as big and ugly as their Communicator mobiles. When I picked up the Nokia N8 recently, what I saw was a beautiful handset, but the same old Symbian look and feel to things. Yes, there are additions, but the Symbian OS has hardly evolved in the past 3 years. Nokia believe this strategy will allow their existing users to easily transition into their high-end smartphones where familiarity will win them the sales they need in this competitive section of the market. I personally don’t see this happening as Apple, Google and now even the once archaic Microsoft continue to outdo themselves with each successive OS upgrade.
Apple was the new kid on the block 3 years ago, but now they’re the industry leaders in terms of innovation and simplicity thanks to which they’ve expanded their user base at an absurdly fast rate. Like the iPod that revolutionized the portable music industry almost a decade ago, the iPhone continues to make huge strides in the Smartphone industry where now everybody is trying to play catch-up. The iPhone alone is now as much of a household name as Nokia; one phone versus the brand image of an entire company.
And then there’s the Android OS. While Apple was busy basking in its own glorious success, this relatively unknown OS came out of nowhere (mostly in the past year) and is now threatening the iPhone’s global dominance. Of course, when you have the backing of a company as huge and resourceful as Google, success is only a footstep away. The Android OS has penetrated the Smartphone market with an alarming rate the likes of which have never been seen before. All because Google is quick to listen to consumer demands and implement changes, and of course, it’s free to mobile manufacturers whereby they themselves can improve on Android where Google didn’t, for instance HTC’s brilliant Sense UI.
Finally we have the Windows Phone 7 which is set to dynamically change the way we use, or rather view information on our Smartphones. WP7 represents as big a departure in Microsoft’s design as the transition from Windows Xp to Vista Windows 7. Built from ground up with the user experience in mind, WP7 represents a bold new step for smartphones in general. Whether this direction will prove successful depends entirely on Microsoft’s own support for the platform and how aggressively they push it towards consumers and developers alike. Ultimately a huge community will form around their platform if the goods are worth it. And, if the Xbox is anything to go by, this will surely be one of the biggest platforms in the mobile market.
In the end, multiple Oss aren’t necessarily a bad thing as the number of choices available in the market allows end consumers to get a product that suits their lifestyle. In such a competitive market where each manufacturer is vying to have the biggest market share with an OS that is simple to use, easy to keep up with and is also elegant to behold, there’s no place for a draconic design that makes a user feel out place (and out of pace) in the 21st century.