Oh yes! that new OS!






There's a big battle going on in the mobile operating system space and users are lapping it up

13th July,2012

If you own a smartphone, the alert for new software upgrades might be popping up more regularly than you'd like to be bothered with. It's a strange scenario. Especially when till as recent as 5-6 years ago, you probably wouldn't even know for sure which operating system (OS) version your phone ran on.

What has changed? Why do you need to see that little icon prompting you to update to “4.2.3-zillionth version” of a software that's silently running in the background?

Because you, the consumer, are in the midst of a new-age battle raging among operating systems.

Without an OS, your phone is stripped down to a meagre piece of hardware without any allure as far as user interaction is concerned. After all, there are strong, inherent reasons as to why one might prefer Windows over Symbian or Android over iOS or vice versa. No wonder then that developers are working overtime to inch closer to that elusive finishing line of perfection that makes consumers want to stick to an operating system for life.

Tracking growth

It took Microsoft less than a year to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8. After the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich in October last year, Android is already moving on to Jelly Bean while a lot of devices still await an ICS update! BlackBerry is awaiting the 10th iteration of its OS and Nokia's Symbian is in its last phase.

The exponential growth in the hardware market has made developers feel that the software needs to keep pace to match the device's capabilities. Failing to upgrade on time, they skip a cycle of innovation and the minds of millions of users who want to make the most of it.

This market in India is expected to double this year to reach 19 million units in shipments from 11 million in 2011. IDC expects this to go up to 108 million in shipments by 2016. And this needs software developers to be on their toes while keeping an eye out for the competitor's progress round the clock.

As the battle between operating systems intensifies, consumers are getting greedy for a better interface and more exciting applications. “Although I have a very basic smartphone, I keep getting these upgrade messages. The constant updates offer better features and lend a better look to the existing applications,” said Shagun Bafna, a call centre employee.

“The smartphone market is growing 40 to 50 per cent year-on-year. We have seen updates/ upgrades in operating systems happening every six to eight months. Initially we had seen innovations led by hardware companies but now many of the innovations are led by software. An example of this is the innovation led by iPhone. It is important to have innovations driven by both hardware and software,” said Mr Anshul Gupta, Prinicpal Research Analyst, Gartner.

OS: The heart of the phone

Operating systems are clearly a big differentiating factor among smartphones. Users are constantly looking for OSes that are easy to use, can tap into new technologies and make for an attractive interface. These OSes should also be able to support standard applications and third-party programs.

“We usually have one major update in a twelve month cycle and we have minor updates during the year. The cycle of updates has definitely become shorter. This is because the smart phone penetration has increased and thereby the demand,” said Mr Vineet Durani, Director, Windows Phone Business Group, Microsoft Corporation India.

It's been two years since its first mobile OS, Windows 7, was launched and the step up to Windows 8 is expected by the end of this year, according to the developer. These updates are not only useful to the consumer but also to developers and telecom operators. “These updates/upgrades help leverage new scenarios and open up new monetisation options,” said Mr Durani. The digital wallet is one such new monetisation option.

Constant upgrades

“Upgradation means the integration of new efficiencies. This can be in the form of a new software update or a newer version of an operating system. Our aim is to give the next level of mobile computing experience to customers. We don't look at it in the form of timelines but in terms of necessity,” said Mr Advait Vaidya, Head of Product Management, RIM India.

BlackBerry currently offers version 7 and 7.1. The new 7.1 version allows users to share their 3G mobile data connection to provide internet access for up to five Wi-fi devices. Developers are working on OS 10, expected to be out next year.

Developers as well as local manufacturers agree that in a way consumers as well as competition are driving forces for the constant upgradation.

“When consumers walk into a store, they don't know what they want. But, they are definitely looking for a better experience. The updates/upgrades make it easier for consumers to migrate to the next level of enhanced user experience.” said Mr Sunil Raina, Business Head of Xolo, Lava International, which is fairly new in the smartphone space.

To woo handset manufacturers to adopt their OS developers try to explain to them device capabilities. “The idea is to build an ecosystem which is beneficial to both the handset makers as well as us. We would partner with a manufacturer who has the hardware specifications that would enhance user experience,” said Mr Durani. Microsoft has partnered with handset makers like Nokia, Samsung and HTC globally.

“If there is a local manufacturer that offers good innovation in hardware then we will definitely evaluate the options,” he said.

Rise and fall

As far as Nokia's Symbian OS goes, there are talks that it is in its last phase now. StarCounter Global Stats, which provides live statistics a graph that shows the mobile market of operating systems shows that Nokia's Symbian OS has lost popularity over the last six months. The global mobile OS market of Symbian OS has fallen to 17.52 per cent in June 2012 from 32 per cent in January 2012. However the Series 40 OS share has been steadily rising over the last six months.

BlackBerry has seen a slight fall in the global mobile OS market. It fell to 5.3 per cent in June 2012 from 6.94 per cent in January 2012.

The iOS and Android OS share has been almost consistent over the last six months. The Android OS has also come a long way. Right from their initial G1 version (2008) to the Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb and the more recent Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Each of these was released in quick succession.

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Published on July 12, 2012


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