Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Platform’
In the beginning there was the PalmOS mobile platform, and then there was Symbian, then Windows Mobile and RIM’s Blackberry OS. Then came the juggernaut iPhone OS from Apple. That was followed by Android from Google. Soon Palm will launch another mobile platform called the WebOS. All these different platforms lead to a question: How many mobile platforms can your company support?
That is just the operating systems. Already the mobile industry is fragmented with dozens of smartphone manufacturers. Add in the different features of the handsets themselves, like accelerometer, GPS, camera, etc, and you have a whole matrix of feature sets that need to be accounted for.
It is amazing how often entrepreneurs and product managers at smaller companies have said to me that this is their strategy. Then I ask them how soon they will be on all these platforms and I get a vague answer of as soon as we can. Given this situation, how long can companies justify developing products for all platforms?
Companies really need to evaluate their strategy against their resources. Building and supporting products on multiple platforms is costly and labor intensive process, just ask all those who build and support PC and Mac products. The complexity increases multiple-fold in the smartphone space. As an entrepreneur or product manager, you don’t have the time to wait until the product has been tested on all the platforms. You need to be out in the market before your competition.
Considering the limited funding and resources, you have to decide on one or two “hero” platforms as Tim Westergren, founder of the popular Pandora music service calls them. He has decided that iPhone is the “hero” platform they will focus on and when WebOS from Palm is available, that will be its second “hero” platform.
There are definite benefits in this strategy: You can develop a product that leverages the various features of that platform. You are able to conserve your resources by developing on few platforms. You can become the “best-in-class” on the specific platforms.
On the flip side, though, you have to weigh how successful are your target platforms going to be. iPhone has done phenomenally well and therefore could be a no-brainer for a lot of us. However, if you were targeting say Android or even the much-anticipated WebOS from Palm, you just have to look back at all those folks who jumped on the PalmOS bandwagon and decide if the rewards outweigh the risk and what is the likelihood of the platform surviving a few years.
Once you have decided on the platforms, like all good strategists, keep evaluating them and your strategy. Tim Westergren did not embark on his strategy right from the get-go. In fact, for two years Pandora was available on AT&T and Verizon Wireless’ application stores where it languished. Only when iPhone came along and Tim decided to launch his product on that platform did he found success.
InStat, a Scottsdale, Arizona based research company, is out with a new report outlining the efforts by Apple and Google to build groundswell for their respective platforms and in the process reshape the wireless industry. Apple is out of the gate with its iPhone phones. According to InStat, “Apple’s iPhone had ambitions to change the wireless industry. Now it looks like it will mostly sell a large number of very exciting phones.” It certainly looks like that, given the stranglehold the operators have on the mobile ecosystem. However, I think it is early days in this shakeout. Certainly, the operators are trying to keep all the other players on their toes by constantly upgrading their infrastructure and introducing new technologies like WiMAX, LTE, etc. However, the platform vendors and other software developers will soon catch up and be nimble enough to adapt to the changing environment.
Google, on the other hand, is a different story. As this recent ReadWriteWeb story goes, Android developers and even some Google engineers are real angry about the way the platform is evolving. In fact, a few of them have started a petition to get Google to publish the SDK so that the developers can start writing applications for it. There are several signers, as of last count, about 45 or so. In fact, one of them has given Google a deadline to publish the SDK by July end or he will switch to iPhone or Windows Mobile. Now, we know Google will eventually publish the SDK at the time of their liking.
But the real question is will it ever get out of the beta phase. Except for Google Search, not one product is out of beta phase at Google (this does not include acquisitions). So, given this track record, do we really expect them to take the SDK out of beta phase ever. If that is indeed the case, will the average consumer be willing to buy a device that is running on a platform that is constantly being upgraded and never productionalized?
Nokia today announced that the Symbian Foundation (SF), that it purchased from other backers last month, has received backing from other companiesincluding operators 3, TIM and America Movil. This is an ongoing effort on SF’s and Nokia’s part to keep the spotlight on itself as it tries to consolidate various operating systems under a single open source system. As I stated earlier, Nokia and Symbian have earnestly committed themselves to the Platform Wars. They want to ensure they continue to be the dominant platform for smartphones.
With Nokia looking to acquire the rest of Symbian that it does not own, and Google readying Android, the Platform Wars are about to begin. So, who will win the Platform War? It is a way early to predict the winners and losers of this war. However, the battlefield has been defined.
With Symbian on 66% of Smartphones, it would seem to have most to lose. So, with this latest announcement from Nokia, they are gearing up for the tough battle ahead. True, Nokia, has ambitions to transform itself from a phone company to an entertainment company.
However, Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum, hit on the real reason, when he was quoted by Paul McDougall of InformationWeek saying:
“The creation of the Symbian Foundation reflects the fact that Symbian’s competitive landscape has started to change rapidly over the past year with new entrants and old competitors increasing their influence,”
They have seen Microsoft, IBM and now Google, make money from the software and services. They want to become a software company. It sees the handset market as a tough market with the Asian manufacturers leading the pack. While Nokia has some great handsets and are the leading provider of phones worldwide, they see the writing on the wall. They want to get out of the handset business. I see them spinning off their handset division in the next year or so and possibly exiting the handset business in 3-5 years.
Nokia will have its work cut out. Now that it is forming the foundation, it will have to tread a careful path so as not to alienate some of the handset providers who are members of the foundation. Also, Microsoft and Google are not going to give in easily. Not to mention upstarts like Apple with iPhone and RIM with Blackberry. Things are just beginning to heat up. Let’s see who remains standing when the dust settles.