Both Nokia and Google may be placing too much emphasis on mobile operating systems. It would make a lot more sense to focus on the development of Web standards that could unleash mobile applications.
With Nokia's acquisition of Symbian, it is going head-to-head with Google Android and Windows Mobile to make a run at building the top software platform for mobile phones. The problem is that all three of them could be making some bad assumptions about the way the mobile phone market — particularly the smartphone market — is going to unfold over the next five to ten years.
They all seem to be assuming that the mobile phone market will mirror the computer market, which is dominated by a small handful of platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. The reality is that there is likely to be a much larger diversity of platforms in the mobile world.
In addition to Android, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, there is now the iPhone with its OS X-based platform. And, beyond those four, there's a plethora of phone makers that run their own proprietary operating systems on a variety of phones, sometimes with a customized OS for each phone.
It's going to be very hard to put the genie back on the bottle in the phone market. All of these different types of phones are already out there and will be in use for years to come. Some may argue that the smartphone market does not have as many players as the general mobile market, but the lines are blurring between standard mobile phones and smartphones.
All of this means that counting on software platforms to deliver mobile applications and services to a large number of users is probably not going to be very practical. There's too much platform fragmentation and diversity, and that's unlikely to change.
It is a bad milieu for developers because it means they have to do too much re-engineering for multiple platforms, and it will ultimately limit the number of applications available on all of these platforms.
To truly move the mobile platform forward, it would make a lot more sense to focus on Web-based mobile apps and the development of common browser standards. For example, if browsers could universally sense screen size, screen orientation, and display details and pass that information back-and-forth with Web programming languages, then presentation of applications could be developed to automatically adjust to different types of phones.
Some of this type of programming and browser-interaction already happens, but taking it to the next level could have a catalyzing impact on applications for mobile phones, while also serving the growing diversity of computing devices from Tablet PCs to desktops with 30-inch monitors to Internet tablets (a.k.a. Intel MIDs) to laptops with 17-inch widescreen displays.
More specifically on the mobile front, building Web programming languages to have deeper interaction with phones and even doing things as simple as full screen browsers on phones that make you forget you're in a browser would more effectively unleash mobile applications. That would make a far more universal impact than having vendors such as Nokia and Google building separate (incompatible) platforms to vie for the attention of developers.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.