The increase in mobile platforms caused by the advent of the Apple iPhone and Google's Android are posing greater challenges for those who develop for mobile. That was one of the main underlying themes of this week's Future of Mobile conference in London.
Tom Hume, Managing Director of developer Future Platforms, picked up on this theme, saying that from a development point of view things were more fragmented. "It's clear that it's an issue for the industry. I think it's actually got worse in the last year or so."
Indeed, many of the panellists representing the major OS vendors said that they expected some kind of consolidation over the coming years as completion in the mobile market becomes ever fiercer. "I'm looking for a reduction in the number of operating systems," said David Wood, Symbian's executive vice president for research. He sees the future as a collaborative one.
"There are too many operating systems. Competition stops us from getting stale, but there are too many operating systems, too many differences of opinion between networks and phone manufacturers. I'm looking for collaboration."
"I don't see a time when there's one dominant mobile operating system," added James McCarthy, head of the mobile communications business at Microsoft UK. "[The market is] too competitive for that." He pointed out that 4 out of the 5 top global manufacturers now make Windows Mobile handsets and that there were 18,000 apps built for Windows Mobile, but admitted that Microsoft hadn't "brought them to market in the way you might have seen them with the iPhone."
Will Symbian keep up?
Under pressure from younger, leaner rivals such as iPhone and Android, Symbian has looked tired at times. Wood admitted that parts of Symbian's OS were perhaps even as much as 14 years old and that the OS now had many parts but adding "every single bit of software that's there has a right to be at the party. Lean and mean."
Wood maintains that Symbian can keep pace – and that the acquisition of Symbian by Nokia would be a key to the platform remaining competitive. Wood added that the "biggest impact" would come from the fact Symbian is going open source, enabling other developers to get in on the act a la Android.
Purple Inc's Oliver Bartholot added that his company – which bought the embedded software arm of Openwave – was attempting "to fight the fragmentation of the market" Andy Bush, from the not-for-profit Li Mo Foundation painted an idealistic picture. "We're working together to consolidate technology. [It's] very much about producing a platform," he said of the Li Mo foundation which boasts NEC, Panasonic and Vodafone among its membership.
Microsoft made the case at this year's Mobile World Congress that Windows Mobile is ready for the consumer market, something we'll see a lot more work on as versions 6.5 and 7.0 emerge over the next couple of years.
The Future of Mobile event also created some rather interesting comments about lower priced mobiles. Doug Richards of Trutap talked about the misconceptions surrounding emerging markets, observing "[reading online] you'd think everyone in India was using a $50 handset to check the price of cereals."