Does the operating system matter anymore?
By Anthony CARUANA
OK - so this isn't strictly a "mobility" topic (and Carry is meant to be a blog about mobility) but it is a topic where the mobile tech market can lead the desktop.
Companies like Palm, Microsoft and Apple make a big deal about their mobile device software. I guess they have to as the hardware, a mobile phone radio, screen and some buttons, is largely the same across the board. Sure, there are some differences but when did we last see a really innovative change to the design of mobile phones? Even the lauded iPhone is really just a touchscreen smartphone.
Respected IT writer Jerry Pournelle recently said that he is "rapidly concluding that given powerful enough hardware the operating system becomes irrelevant". Although he was speaking in context of desktop/laptop computing I reckon the premise applies to mobile devices. The hardware wars, for the vast majority of users, have been run and won. Consumers are the real winners we now have access to more computing power than we really need. Even knowledge workers (which I where I see myself these days) spend most of their time with the web, email, word processing and maybe a handful of other major productivity apps. We've had enough computing power to do all that comfortably for several years now (not withstanding the overhead of Vista and its ilk that push us towards new computers to do the same things we've been doing for years).
We now have Google entering the mobile device fray with their new OS, Android. Apple's there with the iPhone. Palm continues to bumble along with their ageing Palm OS and Windows Mobile has seen little more than modest refinement over the last three years or so. Despite this, Symbian is still the 800lb gorilla in the room and dominates the mobile operating system market. Why? Because it works.
What it boils down to is that if a mobile device does what you want the operating system is largely irrelevant. It's all about applications and with an increasing degree of hardware standardisation (the ARM processor architecture for example) we'll be able to run whatever apps we want in the not too distant future through virutualisation. Want to edit Word documents on your iPhone? Wait for a Windows Mobile virtual machine that runs Word Mobile and you'll be there.
I suspect that in the coming years we'll see the operating system war on mobile devices to fade away. Where we'll go is an application driven paradigm where the focus will be on what you can do with your phone, not what OS it's running. At least that's what I'm hoping for as I'm sick of owning and reviewing phones that don't deliver the total package of functionality.
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