Thursday, February 24, 2011

Are we ready for the next breakthrough in mobile phones?

Ok here is the thing. I have been trying to pick up an Android powered phone for a while and I have not experienced this dilemma before. Windows 7 Phone looks equally attractive. Being a technology enthusiast, specifications of the device I want are crystal clear & trust me I can spend the whole day at a gadget store without a second thought. But something or the other has been bothering me for a while. Yes, it goes in lines of the title of my first blog.

Only a few years back, we would have expected the giants like Nokia, RIM (Blackberry) and Microsoft to be ruling the evolution of mobile handsets/portable devices and ofcourse, some of these players, stepping on a few toes outside their domain to go beyond mobile devices. When I say this, I mean before 2007, more than ~60%* of the market was dominated by Symbian OS, an operating system currently maintained by Nokia; ~12%* by Microsoft Windows Mobile; ~10%* Blackberry OS by RIM (Research in Motion) and the remaining by other OSs.

By the end of 2010, the respective figures are Symbian 37%*, Android 23%*, RIM 16%*, iOS 15%* & Microsoft 4%*. I wouldn't mind saying 'Woah!. What went wrong with the proven track record of strategies of these big players? Where did these new jargons come from?'

Nokia (Symbian) has been Da' market player for years but its market share has been slipping lately. However, do not think ahead yet. Nokia is still the number one handset maker having a good hold in the cheap segment foolish handsets competing with all the new players like micromax etc and also a firm presence in the smart category devices. And its the biggest shareholder and customer for Symbian, which is its own. Remember the 6 thousand series? I still do, as we all got just another gadget kick during those college days or in technical terms, the MMS era. Then the Music era being complemented with N series? & the push E? And the way it all came up? Nokia phones were like mechanics for repairing any Maruti make car today targeting each segment of market and ruling it so well.

When Apple twisted the industry with their iPhone OS (iOS) in 2007, it looked like their 'touch' was all everyone was looking for. So many gestures came to life with this device. Everyone wanted one. So many apps and limitless features that attracted everyone, literally, from musicians to gamers to business users. Microsoft had gained a decent market share at that time, where the windows mobile devices saw their max share for the last time and wanted to focus on enterprise market too.

Then came another shocker, Android, an OS maintained by Google after the acquisition of a small software company. Google's decision to form OHA (Open handset Alliance) in 2007, which is growing still, is proving to be one of the successful strategic moves to ensure that the flagship software, Android, competes well against the platforms from Apple (iOS), Nokia (Symbian), RIM (Blackberry OS), Microsoft and others like HP (formerly Palm) too. It surely is not only competing, but conquering too. What did not even exist in 2007 has almost a quarter of dominance today. What is interesting here is that the concept of open source is not different. Symbian is also open source, with some tweaks though. But the way Android has been marketed and adapted is like being a part of it.

Contrary to Apple, which made the SDK (Software development kit) available to the developers worldwide so they can develop applications which are also native and that too more than a year after their first device, Google made their SDK available at almost the same time their first device was launched and its going hand in hand. iPhone and Android have over 300,000* and 200,000* applications available today. Android seems all set to take the 10 year top position from Symbian in such a short span without being bothered by iPhone. As an example, 300,000* android phones are being activated daily, can you beat that? With that number, its definitely going to go ahead of everyone by a notable margin in only a few years. And look at iPhone, its one device. Keep on loading it with speed, possibilities, but the mass definitely wants variety. Its not like worshiping a deity for most. Both iPhone & iPad were breakthroughs of 'their' time and the time is moving fast, especially for an industry like this. Think business buddies.

Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 7 aims to gain the consumer market this time, instead of the business enterprise market that Windows Mobile aimed at doing earlier while trying to compete with RIM? Not sure. But this new device also looks quite jazzy, with the live desktop, integrated contacts and all. Consumers are liking it to an extent, as it seems light years ahead of their previous Windows Mobile. But will it gain the momentum again in a few years just like it did uptil 2007, only time will tell.

Clearly, Nokia's Symbian has been losing the hold and the feeling of being naked in the contest has resulted in Nokia's tie-up with Microsoft. I mean, it was an obvious move. After trying to come back with their Ovi store and music phone gaga there wasn't much in store for Nokia. With innovations like Android, not to forget the OHA, and the 'secrets' that Apple comes up with, left Nokia too concerned. And Microsoft, even with the capabilities in hand, has not been exhausted enough in terms of being a perfect/prospect smart phone and the striving efforts are not only visible, but commendable. This move would definitely move the Symbian to the back seat. As Nokia starts focusing on innovation with Microsoft, and not trying to sell Symbian, the future would just get dark for Symbian. Remember the protest news at Nokia's headquarters recently?

Most of the handsets offer almost the same type of features in a crux, with a bend on calendaring, social networking & contacts integration across services, real-time web, battery life for some & ofcourse User Interface which has been the trend lately. And going forward from now on, the powerful dual core processors and speed being parsimonious with RAM definitely seems to be a priority for most. Even further, I can imaging the changes in the domain of expertise for some, even beyond what is possible through mobile devices today to integrating with almost every device at your home, office, car and even what is yet to be though of. The wireless way. I wonder what would drive some of these bends a few years from now?

The best device is the one that makes sense to your needs, interests & pocket. Unless you are a technology savvy who likes a technology more than the other, for whatever reasons. Whats happening at the background doesn't really make a difference to a lot. To most, even today, a fairly looking device, doing what it claims capable of doing, at a fairly good speed without any intermittent anomalies works just fine.

But its all about change, what is new, isn't it? And the smartphone consumers love the change so much. What becomes favorite today, is shown attitude tomorrow. What would be the next big move and who would make that move? Does it matter? I would be concerned only if I have some money at stake in these companies, but if I am consumer, I cannot wait for these boxes to unleash new possibilities ;o)

*Appx. avg as gathered from different websites

Disclaimer: All that is mentioned above reflects my cooked thoughts and views as a consumer & whatsoever little bit knowledge or insight I have on the subject through web and other publically available sources.