Symbian, Android, realpolitik and handshake champions

Handshake - (cc) thinkpanamaWe were expecting a sparkling 2009 year for Smartphones and generally Mobile platforms industry and 2009 is effectively reserving to us some interesting trends and dynamics. My personal views have been clearly detailed in this blog in few occasions in the past (thoughts you can find here ).

2008 convinced me of few following statements:

  • Proprietary RTOS are going to disappear (and  that’s more or less confirmed)
  • General purpose OEM oriented proprietary OSes are in danger (e.g.: Microsoft Windows Mobile or Qualcomm’s BREW/BMP) – to be true I was expecting more exciting news from M$
  • Full vertical brands like RIM and Apple were likely to keep a limited but strong market niche
  • Linux based platforms market shares are likely to consolidate around one leader initiative. To me, this initiative would have been Android (consequently LIMO, OpenMoko, Maemo, etc… to loose interest)
  • We’re going to face a even higher runtime fragmentation (Java, Dalvik, QT, browser/widget based runtimes, etc…)

finally, now that first 2009 quarter is ending, is time to come back on these ideas and, make some reflections.

Almost all of you should be familiar with the concept of Realpolitik:

“Realpolitik (Germanreal “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerationsrather than ideological notions. “

In the last few days I’ve come back to my late 2008 and early 2009 considerations about the mobile platforms industry and suddenly I noticed that, maybe, there’s something I’ve underestimated. This something is the various players capability to be “really” on market and to manage market dynamics with a deep understanding of everyone’s needs and position in the value chain.

If you give a look to Gartner’s Worldwide Smartphone Sales you’ll notice that q408 sales actually gave us quite different and interesting trends. More in details there are two clear trends deserving a little analysis:

  • Linux share decreased in 2008
  • Proprietary OS sales increased strongly

It seems to me that the hype provoked by the Android debut on Market was so promising that most of the industry players (except from Nokia) actually slowed down or cancelled any other Linux related effort. Do you remember that, in second half of the year, we were ready to state the upcoming death of Limo as an initiavive?

In the meanwhile the demand for compelling UX and web intensive products coupled with the debut on the market of new products (e.g.: iPhone 2.0, BlackBerry Storm)  led to a strong market share from the vertical proprietary product makers.

When facing reality, most of the industry players encountered some “productization” problems when working on Android based project. Andreas from Vision Mobile pointed out that, the difficulties when moving from “concepts” to “products” was mainly derived by the success and the endorsement that the platform received in 2008. In Andreas views this ended up in a increasing support request to Android team at Google that was evidently not ready to support all of these initiatives:

“Android is a victim of its success

To the surprise of most industry observers, the industry (including operators and handset OEMs) have shifted from criticising Android in late 2007 to adopting Android in late 2008.

So what does this mean for Google?

It means that up to 2008, Google was working with one OEM (HTC) and one operator (T-Mobile). And since 2009 it has to work with nearly 10 OEMs (Motorola, Huawei, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, HTC, Acer, Lenovo, Archos, Garmin, Toshiba) and several operators (O2, Vodafone, T-Mobile China Mobile, ..).

You would think that Google’s mighty 20,000+ workforce can easily cope. But the 100-strong Android team that Google acquired isn’t showing signs of scaling to match the demand; at least the roadmap seems to lack the pace of development, let alone innovation that is expected from Google.”

Anyway, I’m not sure that this is the real problem. More in general, apart from “productization” effort needed to create fully working products that hopefully will not cost the hell in post-sales support, there is an even harder “productization” problem that is related to the product value chain and involves, mostly, operators.

In fact, in the short time Android is still a demanding platform in terms of hardware (e.g.: requires Qualcomm’s 7*** chipsets to work) and forced OEM’s to make significant investments over the last year (build teams for development, QA, customers support, contribute code, etc… on a brand new platform): therefore the BOM lessening that we were expecting thanks to the royalties free OS still isn’t tangible up to now.

Ooperators and third parties (e.g. : service providers/client providers) are still not 100% operative on the platform and this is ending up in service discontinuity when it comes to Android powered devices.

In the meanwhile Symbian Foundation obtained strong investments from Nokia, a new management and an endorsements avalanche (this probably means that the NEW Management is working well and hard and is madee by handshake champions) and will likely reach 100 endorsements soon. Even Qualcomm joined and they’re all happy to work together as it seems…something you could expect after Nokia and Qualcomm closed their patent dispute. At the end Symbian is not that dead OS walking some of us were thinking about it at the end of 2008.

With this lacking effectiveness from Android, and few practical problems showing up, seems that Limo foundation itself received a last slice of time to come back to work on its credibility. This article (again from vision mobile) is quite interesting and gives a quite clear idea of the LIMO situation.

Actually LIMO foundation is still largely founded, provides a “real” commodity (as it provides the middleware only) and in the meanwhile is slowly moving towards more openness and more democracy (release more code, lessen participation fees especially for third parties…) finally building, or trying to, an ecosystem. I can’t say if this is going to work… I still do not believe in LIMO as a successful initiative if we look in the long period.

Looking to things from an higher view all this competition is bringing quality and innovation and, in some cases, standardization: think about WebKit.

As said we still have a big question mark on runtimes fragmentation: it seems that the situation is worsening instead of going better, but this is another story (maybe deserving a reflection in future posts).

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About meedabyte

Strategist, Consultant and Collaborative Pathfinder

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