Over the past few years, wireless handset operating systems (OSs) and middleware have started playing an increasingly important role for OEMs/ODMs. After a long tradition of handsets equipped with firmware/proprietary OSs, current Smartphones offer standardized platforms allowing flexibility to communicate seamlessly among various devices. Besides the obvious cost advantages that come along with standardized OS/middleware to the handset makers, users also benefit from the pool of applications that are developed based on these platforms. Technology research firm ABI forecasts that about 150 million Smartphones will be sold in 2008.
Operators like NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone and Orange have been drawn towards the idea of having service-centric platforms that they hope will help retain customers. Unlike Microsoft, Linux and Symbian both offer flexibility for advanced customization, owing to the fact that these are open source platforms. "With increasing competition and high churn rates," explains ABI analyst Kenil Vora, "operators have felt the need to differentiate their products." Vodafone and Orange have invested in Savaje, a company that specializes in building operator-centric OSs.
On the other hand, Microsoft offers various benefits to the enterprise users that the other OSs lack. For instance, to the enterprise CIO, familiarity in platform and easy extensions with existing desktop software are important, and so Microsoft holds an advantage over Linux and Symbian. Additionally, a low level of customization of the platform brings consistency, which holds tremendous importance to the enterprise, where literally hundreds of devices have to communicate with each other. A platform that is less fragmented, scalable and allows hassle-free implementation of applications is best--suited for enterprise users. ABI believes that Microsoft will be a strong force in the enterprise segment.
Microsoft's entry in the mobile handset segment came with a lot of opposition from the large OEMs after fearing its dominance in the handset sector. With the largest handset players supporting Symbian, Motorola has been uncomfortable with the dominant position that Nokia has been gaining with Symbian. Besides being the largest shareholder in Symbian, Nokia packages its Nokia Series 60 platform with nearly every Symbian installation.
Linux may provide a viable alternative to handset OEMs that are deterred by the dominance of Microsoft on one hand and Nokia on the other with the Symbian platform. Additionally, in countries like India and China where the markets are very price sensitive, Linux may prove to be a more affordable solution. But fragmentation of Linux will continue to stagnate its growth. ABI ranks Symbian first, followed by Microsoft Windows Software and then Linux, in the order of market share estimated in 2008.
On the middleware front, Java currently dominates the global handset market with more than 100 million handsets shipped with J2ME in 2003. But Java remains too fragmented to be mass deployed as a standard middleware among all devices. Application developers prefer to write on a platform, which is mass deployed as well as less fragmented, so that they do not end up re-writing the code for each new device. Qualcomm's BREW has been struggling to make strides in the handset marketplace. Currently 20 operators have deployed BREW, but whether a GSM operator will install BREW remains to be seen.
ABI's report, "Wireless Handset Software: The Evolution of OS and Middleware Solutions and Their Impact on Next Generation Wireless Devices," examines the strategies adopted by major wireless OS and middleware providers and includes information and projections on various shipments and license fees.
ABI is a N.Y.-based technology market research firm founded in 1990. ABI publishes market research and technology intelligence on the wireless, automotive, electronics, broadband and energy industries. Details can be found on the web at abiresearch.com or by calling 516-624-3113.