Mobile Platform Wars: What’s Next?

9/13/11Follow @marklowenstein

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WebOS developers. At best, a developer “majors” in one OS and “minors” in another. Perhaps they’ll be American-style multi-lingual, but they won’t be Europe-style multi-lingual.

There are twin forces at work here: pace of product development and relative scarcity of developer talent.

2. Will There Be a Game-Changing Product Experience?

Take ANY high-end smartphone that has been introduced in the past six months: Android, Windows, Blackberry, WebOS, Symbian. Know what? They’re all pretty good. They all do the basics, and them some, pretty well. So why has success been so elusive for those outside the Apple and Google ecosystems?

Apple was initially successful because of its game-changing user interface (though I’d argue they perfected what Palm started with the Treo). More recently, however, I’d argue that Apple’s success has been more about its unassailable “ecosystem”—iTunes, app store, physical store, other Apple devices, marketing heft and prowess.

From Android, we see continuous innovation. Handsets get better and better, and notable improvements occur across categories of functionality, seemingly on a daily basis. There are no cult-like media events or blockbuster announcements. Your maps, voice search, mobile web page display…they just get steadily better, and you don’t have to run out and get a new handset every three months to benefit from these improvements.

Between Apple being in its own league, and the incredible selection of Android devices, consumers feel that they can get the state of the art from those two platforms. Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows phones are all pretty good, but what is the compelling case for a customer to buy one of those devices?

In order for one of the other platforms to remain viable or grow share, there’s got to be something game-changing. In Nokia’s case, I believe they are working on a very different type of user-interface—a highly evolved way in which the user interacts with their device. They’re not going to win in hardware (Apple), or software (Google), so their best chance is to return to their original UI roots and try to do something different, then leverage their global supply chain and still strong brand.

3. Is There Still Room in the Enterprise?

I believe there’s still room to capture share in the enterprise. Even though iOS has huge momentum in the enterprise, the Apple “ecosystem” is still more of a consumer phenomenon. Android is gaining traction too, but important gaps (security) and lack of vertical integration has CIOs hedging their bets. I believe the enterprise piece is an under-recognized reason for Google’s Motorola purchase.

In RIM’s case, every month that goes by where we don’t really know what the next major, QNX-based phase of the Blackberry will look like (not just the device, but the whole ecosystem) causes further erosion of market share and credibility. In my opinion, they have to get on the road in Q4 and visit the CIO of every major North American corporation, and show them something (under NDA) that re-instills confidence. Or it could be game over.

One area where RIM could change the game is defining what mobile messaging is going to look like over the next several years. Competitive mobile e-mail solutions, both consumer and enterprise, exist across all platforms. But RIM has unique assets: Blackberry Enterprise Server installed at hundreds of thousands of companies; its Fort Knox-like Network Operation Center(s); and … Next Page »

Mark Lowenstein, an Xconomist, is managing director of Mobile Ecosystem, a wireless industry consulting firm. Subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless newsletter here. Follow @marklowenstein

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