The mobile handset world was a very different place pre-iPhone. Nokia was undisputed ‘king of the castle’, Sony Ericsson was snapping at its heels, Motorola was still a force, albeit fading, and Blackberry was the choice of those wanting to be good corporate citizens. HTC, Samsung and LG were producing ‘cool’ phones but were hampered by running their own OS or heavily modifying Windows Mobile OS so it didn’t actually look like a Windows phone.

Despite the success of the iPod and what it did for the music industry, nobody then would have predicted the influence that the iPhone would have on the telecom industry. The iPhone was hardly a fully featured mobile phone but what it did do was revolutionize the interface between mere mortals and the fantastic connected world we all demand today.

In those few short years, Apple has driven the requirements of faster network access speeds and greater capacity to feed its hungry little ‘data munchers’. It spawned a whole new breed, unimaginatively known as smartphones, and drove companies like Google and Amazon to play in a space they would not normally have addressed.

While it may be said that Apple caught the others napping, Google’s Android OS emerged as the only real competitor for the hearts and minds of the ‘other’ major smartphone manufacturers, with the exception of RIM and Nokia.

However, cracks are beginning to appear in Google’s Android strategy. Apple steadfastly applies a combined software/hardware approached with staged releases of both and effortless upgrading for at least two generations of devices. Android, on the other hand, is starting to flounder with its fragmented multiple releases, not always upgradable, and often tailored specifically for devices it runs on.

According to ZD Net, this fragmentation is fact and based on independent research and observation. The problem can be summed up with this response from an Android App developer: “They [Android-based devices] don’t all have the same code bases and there are multiple Android versions that are much different than the iOS versions. That makes a much larger matrix than there is in iOS.”

It’s not necessarily a Google’s problem per se, it’s the nature of the openness of the platform. Apple’s iOS is more consistent because developers from all over the planet are not creating their own versions and sub-versions of the operating system.

Even though I could be branded as an Apple geek having owned every iteration of iPhone (except the 4) and iPad, I am constantly tempted or requested to try other technologies for personal comparison or to review for articles.

The Insider has been impressed by Android powered units but find the applications are not always uniform in operation. It’s the very fundamental concept of Android — an Open Source smartphone and tablet operating system, that can be used on a variety of manufacturers devices with varying feature sets that also create its ‘Achilles heel’.

Android also provides for the additional openness of having 3rd-party App Stores that suit the needs of different types of customers if the Google Android Market (Now Google Play) doesn’t fit the bill. However, it does not apply the same stringent compliance that Apple does to its apps. As already mentioned, there is also the ability for the base OS itself to be modified as well as the ability to side-load applications of your own design for use in vertical markets.

Android’s biggest downfall is that Google loosely manages its ecosystem and has allowed the platform to mutate and fragment. Its OEMs and operators do not always provide timely updates to their handsets and tablets, if at all.

The surprise packet for many has been the Windows Phone OS. Running on the Nokia Lumia 800, which I had the opportunity to test drive, it was quite an experience. It looks nothing like the other OSs, and it’s dramatically fast, a point that Microsoft is going all out to highlight.

Having sworn never to buy another Windows-powered phone after a string of nasty experiences in the past, I could easily be drawn to the new version. Its only downfall being its limited and unwieldy sync capability with Mac software. This is something that Apple mastered with iOS using iTunes as the common sync platform for Windows and Mac users.

Microsoft is also being uncannily clever by showing how Windows 8, tagged to run on tablets as well as PCs, looks and feels just like the Phone version, something Apple has slated for its Mountain Lion OS release.

If Android does not head down the same route, it could well find itself where Windows CE and Windows Mobile found themselves in the past. If RIM’s BlackBerry 10 OS does not live up to its promise, we may just see Apple and Windows battling it out in the future and Android suffering a similar fate to Linux, a great open OS but lacking the commercial uniformity that appeals to the mass market.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 2 April 2012