The arrival of Android, Google’s foray into the handset operating environment following Apple’s iPhone launch, raises two important questions: Why did it take so long for these new, user-friendly, systems to make an appearance and challenge the established players in the smart handset space? And why have the incumbent phone-makers persevered with sub-standard systems for so long?
There are currently hundreds of operating system versions out in the market, most of them proprietary. Of course, if you’re not sure which OS your customers prefer, you can always offer multiple phones with multiple operating systems.
And if you can’t decide on which Symbian version to use, why not offer them all (and if you’re Palm, you can throw out your own OS and adopt Microsoft Windows Mobile simply because more applications are being developed for it).
This is what makes the mobile phone and PC markets inherently different. The former is inundated with operating systems, none dominant, the latter with three or four at best, dominated by one. You’d be hard pressed to pick a leader in the handset space.
If open-source Android lives up to half its hype and works on multiple handsets it will certainly give the market a shake. If developers see a big market, and a free Software Development Kit (SDK) is made available, they will probably flock to capitalise on it.
Google will hardly need to take any risks after seeing Apple successfully breach the walled garden of the mobile industry and break the hold handset makers had on both operators and customers.
In fact, Apple only did what it has always done brilliantly: it came up with a device that was user-friendly and was operated by something most people have at their disposal 24 hours a day. A finger.
Apple also took its clever and efficient PC operating system and made it fit into a neat package with a big, clear screen and gave developers a means, to not only develop consumer and business applications, but also to sell them for a reasonable fee, direct to the customers.
Even when the operating system needs tweaking or updating it can be done the same way Apple has always kept its customer devices up to date, viaiTunes. Simplicity personified.
And with the huge success of the iPod it’s a very small step for customers to make in selecting an iPhone. Google will not have this type of advantage, but you can bet it will learn from Apple’s initiatives.
Take almost any other handset over the last ten years and see how easy it is to update the OS. Not at all.
And how many add-on packages have you bought online and downloaded only to find they didn’t work? Yes, it was designed for a Symbian phone, but not exactly yours!
Or you tried the latest Sudoku for your Windows-powered phone but, oops, you have the wrong screen size. Most people don’t even know what model phone they have, let alone the software version of the MP3 player, or the screen’s pixel size. Result, frustration bordering on rage.
All this begs the question again: how come the companies with the biggest market share, biggest turnover and largest resource base in the operating systems’ world don’t invest in the development of an all-new, all-singing, all-dancing operating system that works on all devices and works properly?
Most of all, how come Apple and Google, with little or no previous mobile industry experience, have had to lead the way?
In this fast-paced market, hungry for ingenuity, there could be a revolution. After all, arrogance and smugness have brought down much bigger empires!