// October 4th, 2008 // 11 Comments » // Free Software
David and Goliath
Recently Engadget reported that Steve Ballmer were taking shots at Google’s Android platform during his UK media tour. He said that it looked very “version 1″ and that it only has 1 handset maker and 1 provider, while Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS is supported on 55 manufacturer’s devices over 175 networks. He also aparently called Microsoft a David compared to Google’s goliath. That’s actually quite a big complement to the Android product, even if it wasn’t meant so. Ballmer said that because the software is version 1, and looks and feels that way, other handset manufacturers won’t be interested in it.
Motorola, currently ranking 3rd in terms of global market share in handset makers, have announced that they are seeking to hire 300 developers to work inside Motorola developing on Android. That’s quite a big announcement, and a big bet for Motorola considering that their market share has been slipping in recent years. Motorola’s current high-end phones are already running a Linux kernel, so hopefully there will be a new range of consumer phones from them soon that are much more open than their older ones.
Android is not Microsoft’s only threat
Nokia, who is currently the world’s biggest handset manufacturer, has acquired the Symbian operating system (which currently runs on most of the high-end Nokia handsets) and have announced that they will be releasing the code under a free license. Not only will Nokia be selling Symbian as an open source operating system on their phones, but they are also develop a platform called Maemo which is a Linux system they sell with their tablet phones.
Samsung, currently second in terms of global market share, and LG who is currently 4th have also made big bets on Linux using the Access Linux Platform on 18 different phones.
Maybe Steve has a point?
When I first read the about Ballmer making the David and Goliath anology, I thought that it was just a little melodramatic, but with the 4 biggest handset manufacturers showing such a large interest in Linux and Free Software, I would be worried too if I were him. Google has a big opportunity here to make Android more attractive to more handset manufacturers, I hope they don’t mess it up.
And the iPhone?
The iPhone is a good piece of hardware, and even though the software is proprietary, it’s quite good too. A big limiting factor for the iPhone is that its software only runs on Apple hardware, while many of the next-generation systems can run on pretty much anything. This compares to the situation in the 80′s where you could only buy Apple software with Apple computers, and Microsoft operating systems with just about any other x86 PC hardware you could find.
Exciting times ahead
I lost track of my original thoughts in this post, but the next few years in the handset arena will be interesting and will continue to define how we use technology in our day-to-day lives. There will probably be many shake-ups in the years to come, and the industry will probably not be recognisable when we compare it today. I’m glad that the platforms that are used in the phones will become more standardised and use more and more open platforms. It’s a shame that in 2008, users still can’t just send contact details by sms withought having to wonder if the person on the other side will be able to open it. I think that in 5 years from now, we’ll be able to sync our devices and make them talk to each other in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible with the old proprietary systems that we used to use.