By 2009, Symbian's share of the mobile phone operating system market could stand at less than 50%, and most of the remainder will have been seized by Microsoft.
Today, Symbian Ltd. dominates the market for cellular handset operating systems. But according to a new study from ABI Research, this market has not been fully tapped. There is still plenty of opportunity in the sector, both for development of mobile operating systems and for the applications that run under them.
ABI Research's new study, "Wireless Handset Software", examines the reasons behind current OS demand, and the drivers of demand in the future. It found that while Symbian may be without serious challengers right now, Microsoft's Windows Mobile is catching up fast.
"The problem for Symbian," analyst Brian Pellegrini notes, "is that they're only targeting higher-end phones, which form a tiny part of the market." Not too many people are going to have these expensive models. Most will have simpler 'enhanced' phones with a color screen, maybe a camera, but not many very advanced features.
Microsoft is definitely interested in this opportunity, says Pellegrini, and its advantage is that the mobile OS segment is miniscule compared to the rest of its business. "Money is not really an issue for them," he says. "They have even talked about offering free Windows Mobile licenses, just to get the product used."
Not that Microsoft has no challenges to face. It might have difficulty getting small independent developers to create applications, because Windows software is closed-source. Handset vendors, used to being able to customize applications for their specific devices, may worry about interoperability or fear encroachment on their markets. But with its very deep pockets and vast resources, the Redmond giant may be able to handle the bulk of application development itself.