Windows Phone 7 + BlackBerry 6 + MeeGo = Smartphone OS face-off

If you think the smartphone market is interesting now, just wait until the fourth quarter.

Smartphone giants Research In Motion (BlackBerry), Nokia (MeeGo) and Microsoft (Windows Phone) each plan to introduce by year-end completely refreshed--or in some cases completely new--smartphone platforms. The actions highlight the dramatic and continued upheavals in the smartphone playground, as well as the market's massive opportunity. But is there enough room in the smartphone business for all this busy-ness?

But before we get into the nuts and bolts of BlackBerry 6, Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo, let's take a look at the lay of the land: According to research firm Gartner, the world's leading smartphone OS in the first quarter was none other than Symbian, the much maligned platform supported by Nokia(NYSE:NOK). RIM (NASDAQ:RIMM) clocked in second, with fully 20 percent of the market, followed by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

Gartner provides worldwide smartphone sales to end users by operating system in the first quarter of 2010 (units in thousands).

The scene in the United States is much different. According to numbers from comScore, RIM's BlackBerry platform is far and away the smartphone leader among Americans. Apple trails in second and Microsoft commands third, but Google continues to gain steam in the No. 4 position.

ComScore's MobiLens service indicates current smartphone ownership, according to its monthly user surveys, for the three month period ending in May.

While there is much to derive from these numbers, a key takeaway is that a sizeable portion of the global and domestic smartphone market is mere months away from a dramatic refresh. Consider:

  • RIM, the world's fourth largest handset vendor (smart or not) and the world's second largest smartphone vendor has promised to sometime in the next few months introduce BlackBerry 6, a platform that promises to integrate the company's email heritage with the Web friendly, touchscreen reality of today's lightning-fast smartphone market.
  • Microsoft, the Windows behemoth, has promised phones running its Windows Phone 7 platform this fall. The company's platform is a new, from-the-ground-up rethinking of smartphone interfacing, and signals Microsoft's abandonment of its previous Windows Mobile OS.
  • Finally, let's not forget Nokia, the world's largest handset maker, which pushed Symbian into the global No. 1 slot on the strength of its massive, worldwide scale and reach. But Symbian is no longer Nokia's go-to platform for high-end gizmos and gadgets: Nokia and Intel in February announced they would combine their smartphone efforts under the MeeGo banner. Nokia has promised a MeeGo-powered smartphone sometime this year.

So what exactly do we know so far about each of these respective platforms? And what do Microsoft, Nokia and RIM need to deliver in order to withstand the onslaught from Apple and Google? Click each of the logos below to find out more...

Of course, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft aren't working in a vacuum, and if there's one lesson to learn from the past few year's worth of smartphones, it's that the pace of innovation has reached light speeds. Four years after reshaping the high-end cell phone market, Apple continues to barrel forward: The company announced it sold fully 1.7 million iPhone 4s during the first few days of the gadget's release. Meanwhile, Google's Android licensees are stumbling over themselves with one-upmanship: In the past few weeks alone, close to a dozen new Android phones have hit the U.S. market, and comScore numbers show Android growing its U.S. share from a mere 2.5 percent in September to a whopping 13 percent in May.

Further, both Apple and Google could well shake up the smartphone market again before year-end: Google is rumored to be prepping a music download service alongside version 3.0 of its Android platform, while Apple could also add streaming functions to its iTunes platform.

Add into the mix Samsung's bada, Hewlett-Packard's webOS, the continuing work of the Symbian Foundation and possible innovations from a range of startups, and the stage is set for high-end handset chaos.

In the research firm’s global smartphone shipment forecast for 2010, ABI Research predicts Symbian will remain the world’s largest smartphone OS vendor.

Is there a conclusion to draw? Not really, but there is one big question. Summed Ramon Llamas of research firm IDC: "How are the carriers going to be pushing all of these [smartphones] in their increasingly crowded storefronts?"

Windows Phone 7 + BlackBerry 6 + MeeGo = Smartphone OS face-off