Mobile
Commentary
2/14/2011
12:02 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
Commentary
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Smartphone Platform Consolidation Begins

With Nokia's announcement that Windows Phone 7 would be the primary platform for their phones, consolidation in the mobile space begins. It is now down from seven platforms to effectively five going forward. This isn't the end though.

With Nokia's announcement that Windows Phone 7 would be the primary platform for their phones, consolidation in the mobile space begins. It is now down from seven platforms to effectively five going forward. This isn't the end though.Right now the market is comprised primarily of six platforms. iOS is Apple's entry and it boasts the number one selling smartphone. It can be credited with being the standard which all other smartphones are judged against. Android is Google's recent entry and it has just earned the distinction of being the best selling smartphone platform. RIM has the venerable Blackberry platform, though it is getting a big long in the tooth, regardless of whatever touch features are bolted on. Windows Phone is Microsoft's new entry. Windows Mobile had run its course, perhaps for a two to three years too long and MS decided to start from scratch. WebOS was Palm's baby but now belongs to HP. HP was more interested in the OS for tablets and other devices. Their half-hearted attempt with the Pre3 and Veer shows there is no serious innovation coming from HP's smartphones.

The sixth platform in the mix is Symbian. This has been Nokia's platform for years and has even been licensed to others like Samsung. It was never really viewed, at least in the US, as a serious contender in the smartphone race. Technically there is a seventh platform that is from Nokia as well in partnership with Intel.

I am not counting Bada in this as Samsung never intended to use it to compete at this level.

For all intents and purposes, Symbian and Meego have been given their walking papers. The newest platform on the list, Windows Phone 7, was given a huge shot in the arm with this partnership. Success is not guaranteed of course, but people shouldn't underestimate Nokia's resolve to stay alive as a top device manufacturer. They will just leave the software side up to Microsoft.

WebOS will be the next to go in my opinion, at least from a smartphone standpoint. Palm diehards have given up on the platform and are moving on to Android and iOS. HP did itself no favors by going back on a commitment to provide WebOS 2.0 to all previous WebOS devices. Other than the Pre 2 that is just now getting ready to launch on Verizon, no earlier devices will move beyond WebOS 1.x. That caused a lot of the faithful to throw in the towel on Palm's creation if the user forums are any indication.

RIM will continue to struggle. Blackberry 6.0 did nothing to revitalize the platform, and RIM knew that would happen. It is moving to QNX, the same OS that powers its PlayBook. We are months if not a year or so from a device running that though.

Tablets are a different story though. Apple is at the top of the heap here in both the platform and device with the iPad. Android is next, though all of the devices available now were released before the platform was ready. Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, will change that and it will easily slide into a strong second place in the tablet market for 2011.

RIM's PlayBook based on QNX is as misguided as the Palm Folio from years ago. By requiring the tablet to be mated to a Blackberry smartphone to be useful is a huge mistake. It won't be a breakout success, even among Blackberry fans.

WebOS will be the third place tablet platform in 2011, though a distant third. HP has a lot of work to do to get the tablet line off of the ground and into consumer's hands.

Windows Phone has no tablet plans, or it has nothing publicly disclosed. Even if there are internal plans by MS to get this on a tablet, it is a long way off and there is a lot of work to do. The live tiles and application lists alone, core to the WP7 experience, won't work well on a large screen in their current incarnation.

Ultimately, I think the smartphone market will settle on four key players. Developers will appreciate having fewer platforms to write for and the average consumer will be able to make a decision easier with fewer choices. Worst case scenario is there will be three major players and one straggler, but I think the market will level off in a few years with no one under 20 percent share and no one over 35 percent share.

What do you think? Will it stop at five smartphone platforms or do you think one more domino will fall?

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