Smartphone OSs will dictate the future

Nokia continues to be the biggest cell phone brand worldwide, and data published by Gartner indicated that the company sold more handsets in the second quarter of 2010 compared with the same period last year.

A commendable effort, given the global economic upheaval.

But this headline belies what is underway within the handset marketplace--cell phone operating systems are becoming the deciding factor, not the hardware platform itself.

This is shown by the increasing popularity of Android. Regardless of the hype that continues to envelop the iPhone, the Google OS has overtaken Apple's iOS share of 14.2 per cent and has boosted its own market share from 1.8 per cent last year to 17.2 per cent this year.

This achievement now places Android in third place behind BlackBerry and Nokia in global smartphone sales.

This achievement, according to Carolina Milanesi, research VP at Gartner, can be attributed to Google's aggressive marketing of the Android brand.

Milanesi summed up her viewpoint on Android as: "A non-exclusive strategy that produces products selling across many communication service providers, and the backing of so many device manufacturers, which are bringing more attractive devices to market at several different price points, were among the factors that yielded its growth this quarter."

But, Symbian retains its supremacy today--greatly assisted by its dominance in the low-end smartphone sector. However, this Nokia OS is being destroyed at the high-end and its remaining hope for survival would seem to be dependent on the success of the forthcoming N8 devices.

The much-delayed N8, now rumoured to make its appearance in the next few weeks, is said to have impressive specs--such as a 12 megapixel camera that can record videos in 720p HD quality. But it dramatically needs to reset the OS benchmark in Nokia's favour.

The company has remained committed to Symbian and has refused to follow the likes of other handsets vendors, such as Motorola and HTC, by adopting Android for use with some of its devices.

Nokia's executive VP, Niklas Savander, recently noted that any idea of using Android was a sign of the company losing sight of its true "destiny". He failed to detail what this destiny might be, although its decision to push ahead with Intel on the development of the Linux-based MeeGo OS might indicate some flexibility in OS choices.

History in the shape of the alliance between Microsoft and Intel, and their utterly convincing victory of the desktop/laptop OS battle, might serve to illustrate what is happening with the future direction of mobile OSs.

So, is Google looking to achieve something similar with Android, helped by the support of a few enthusiastic handset vendors?

Apple's "destiny" is probably safe given its small band of zealots that will never, ever countenance anything else. But Nokia's position looks increasingly confused as it flogs ahead with an outmoded and lumbering business model. -Paul

(P.S. Despite rumours that Nokia had interviewed two potential candidates to replace Nokia president and CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, no announcements have been forthcoming.)