A recent article in the New York Times cited concerns regarding the number of cell phone operating systems:
Two operating systems run more than 95 percent of the worldâ€™s computers, but dozens of systems are behind the 2.5 billion mobile phones in circulation, a situation that has hampered the growth of new services, industry executives and independent specialists say.
The article points out that so many operating systems slow down the development of new applications. Moreover, small software companies, which often have been an important source of innovation in the computer industry, are often shut out of application development since the barriers to entry are so much higher.
Last November, Vodafone even announced that it would limit the number of smart phone operating systems it sells in an attempt to simplify the situation; NTT DoCoMo of Japan has followed this practice for more than a year.
My take is this: in the evolution of most technology markets it is normal for there to be a time where many competitors arise and give way to a rather confusing situation in the market. That is simply a validation that the market is a viable one. Consider the market for computers mentioned in the article; there was a time when that market was not consolidated largely behind two operating systems. In the American automobile market literally thousands of companies were whittled down to the big three (of course, there are other non-American auto manufacturers, but even these number far less than what was the case in the earlier days of the market).
The smart phone market will most likely see the same type of consolidation as it evolves. I believe that RIM enjoys an enormous advantage in that it dominates the enterprise market, and thus is poised for the long run.
I donâ€™t feel so comfortable with carriers like Vodafone attempting to make the decision for customers as to which operating systems to favor. The carriers already exercise too much power and control over the market, and that in itself limits innovation more than too many competitive operating systems (a topic I will get to in a future column).
In the meantime, the market forces will not be so easily overcome, even by the carriers. Vodafone is already going to exceed its self-imposed limit on operating system options when the iPhone hits their market, thus rendering that limit virtually meaningless.
So are there too many operating systems in the smart phone market? The situation can seem confusing to consumers and does make the job more difficult for developers. Ultimately, though, there are as many competitors as the market will allow and that overall is a healthy state.