Tension within the mobile ecosystem has grown in recent years. On device front Apple iPhone’s success and on the application front the development of over the top alternatives that provide new value and can also compete with carrier-owned apps.
Service providers also have tried to counter the independent mobile application stores, with modest success, to date. Few can remember it now, but there was a time, a few decades ago, when devices were manufactured by service providers themselves. That isn’t generally the case anymore, though occasionally service providers dabble at device creation.
But if they can’t really control their own devices to the extent they once did, mobile service providers still seek leverage over the major operating system platforms, namely iOS and Android, at the moment. That explains the service provider support for Windows Mobile and now other operating systems.
European service providers continue to seek a mobile platform they can control, with Mozilla's upcoming Firefox Mobile as their latest target, and even the former Nokia/Intel OS, Meego, is making a reappearance.
There are reasons to question how well those efforts will succeed, given the rather mixed results in the app store, device, apps or OS realms, to date. Operator supported operating systems, including SavaJe and LiMO, haven’t gotten notable traction. But service providers keep trying. Firefox Mobile has gotten support from Telefonica, for example.
But the challenges are daunting, one might argue. In the first quarter of 2012, for example, Linux had about 2.3 percent share, globally, Windows had 2.2 percent and all others had 0.3 percent. Of course, any new operating system has to win support not only from developers but from handset suppliers.
And handset manufacturers are naturally attracted by any new OS only to the extent that it promises large sales volumes that are difficult to prove, initially. Every now and then, some major change happens in the mobile handset business, though. The most recent wave of changes has to do with the shift of sales from feature phones to smartphones.
Though Symbian continues to have a high installed base of feature phones, even Nokia has abandoned Symbian as sales momentum has swung decidedly towards smartphones. The issue now is whether industry dynamics have shifted to a new pattern that is relatively stable, foreclosing opportunities for other smartphone operating systems to grab significant shares from Android or iOS.
Some observers would say Microsoft has the best chance of taking the number-three spot for operating system share. Aside from that possibility, some might argue that the fundamental market shift already has occurred, and that it essentially is too late for most contestants to reshape or disrupt the market, at least until the next disruption.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman