Telcos

Are Google and Nokia betting on the wrong horse in the smartphone race?

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.

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.

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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.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.

12 comments
Tech D
Tech D

Agree tremendously the smartphone and mobile markets are blurring the differences, and Google, Nokia making their phone applications available, I heard Google's will be open source giving developers a chance at app dev. Google OS on smart phones or mobile phones is a smart move though since their OS is not going to compete with PC OS's which are no were closely matching enterprise Win, Mac, and Linux.

ferdi
ferdi

Thousands of 3rd party application did develope in the past few years for Symbian systems. Have a look at the web sites.

nevg
nevg

I think Google should take the initiative and develop a completely new mobile Platform for the next decade. i.e Mobile Personal Computers - MPC (cell phone size, slim and compact) with relevant applications running entirely via a web browser. (spreadsheet, wordprocessor, database, presentation, email, including conventional Cell applications). Mobile application that sense screen size, screen orientation, and display details to adjust to different types of phones, would be a good place to start.

olymax
olymax

how about iphone os?

jasonshiplack
jasonshiplack

i really dont think so, that fact is that sooner or later is only going to be a very small hand full of OS for cell phones. the less the better i think, it will take the head ache out of founding programs for 60 different OS setups. I say 3 is good enough and if Google pulls it off it will be a big seller, count me in on getting one for my self.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'll store all my data in the "cloud" (is this like when every OS was going to be browser based after win95?) and rely on webapps right afer I return from my three month vacation snowboarding in he...you get the idea. The cellphones are still a specialty device with an embedded OS specific too it's needs so that's not likely to change. I am happy to see firmware updates being offered finally though I'd like to have seen it before my V3 was beyond "warrenty period". (no updated V3 firmware for me, no Motorola next time either) Smartphones are a different breed as the mutant child of PDAs growing cell radios. There extensability leads too bigger beasts fighting for market share. WinCE, PalmOS, Symbian.. They're closer to a general computing device and require some knowledge of what OS they run so you can add in more software for your needs. (Palm T5 with a cell radio would have been a killer; treo, wrong physical shape for my preferences) In general, I don't see the device OS and local software going away in favour of general platforms pulling all storage and userspace programs from an anonymous webserver. It will all evolve though as it's done already; the laptop is the new desktop, the smartphone is the new cellphone. the MIDS, well, is just new but I guess it replaces the PDA too some degree (mine sure does).

ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org
ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org

I am sorry...but I don't think web applications are the answer to everything in computer software. There are still too many places that cell towers or other internet services don't cover to be dependent on web applications on my WM phone. I live in a cell dead zone right now and some areas it is difficult or impossible to get a signal(sometimes intentionally). I don't want my device to become an expensive paperweight just because I don't have a signal (even if phone service is crippled during those times). On top of that web applications are almost always slower and less featured than stand alone apps. Especially over a slower link(like Edge). While that is improving, its not there yet.

pr.arun
pr.arun

The platforms are different but whether they will remain incompatible forever is the question. Virtualization on the mobile front could cause different spins.

Desert__Rat
Desert__Rat

I don't live in one of the top 100 markets so spotty service is the norm. Shoot, the county I live in is over 2000 square miles in size yest has less than 60k residents. Anyway, 20 years of this field has taught me to minimialy trust an app on the other end of a cable wireless or otherwise. Things happen, rarely for the better.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

things like Google Gears are making Web apps available offline. This will be a solved problem within a couple years, Web pages and Web apps will get cached locally and invisibly in the background. It's already happening. Check out some of the Zoho apps running with Google Gears.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

.. no locally stored data, no usable applications, multiple third parties having to be involved in my security chain.. Webapps are great in business where the data is already network stored and belongs to the company. Centralized program management and updating, natural distribution by browser each new workstation. There are lots of benefits when used properly. Connected through an anonymous interface that sees each server hit as a seporate request regardless of how many workarounds are invented. Network connections also timeout and loose connection all together. I've had to restart a few report data requests already today because the webapp webform timed out. With another work app, I regularily choose the locally installed client rather than the webapp build of it. There's just too much work being done to extend the html viewer program even further beyond it's intent. I love seeing any bit of tech extended beyond it's manufacturer's intent but at some point your just pushing round pegs into square holes. I think Webapps do a whole lot for the IT staffers who have to keep them running and the vendors who sell the magic beans but they are not always the right answer for the end users needs.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Like nontech users who think a computer is broken because they didn't double click; it may simply be a lack of my own understanding of all the abstraction layers and where data get's stored. I'm willing to consider that anyhow but it does give me the willies relying on a browser and nonlocal storage.

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