There was a time when people used to perform simple functions such as making calls and sending SMSes with their mobile phones. Now people want their mobile phones to work like computers. They want to see and share photos with it, send email, browse the internet and more. That’s why they need phones to have full fledged operating systems (just like computers do).
The arrival of smartphone operating systems started a long time ago. It was in 1996 that Palm OS was launched, and Pocket PC (Microsoft) arrived in 2000.
Windows Mobile 5 and BlackBerry OS 4.1 came in 2005. Android was acquired by Google in the same year and iPhone was released in 2007. Android 1.0, BlackBerry OS 4.5, iPhone OS 2.0 and Windows Mobile 6.1—all came in 2008. Samsung bada was announced in 2009.
Despite the surfeit of smartphone operating systems, the market for them didn’t really take off as Java based phones were popular at that time, and operating system-based phones barely had any applications, which meant that users had to manage with the apps their handset manufacturers gave them. If developers wanted to sell an app, they had to strike a deal directly with the manufacturer of the phone, which was very difficult.
Now, the easy availability of different types of apps, free as well as paid, has made people vouch for smartphones in huge numbers. Applications could be anything from news sources to weather apps or anything else that can be in digital form.
The situation has transformed the phone market so much that we find it difficult to even imagine buying a new phone without apps. We have, in fact, seen an entire mobile phone app economy coming up in the past few years. Apps are not new. Even desktops use apps — almost all browsers, such as Mozilla’s Firefox, use widgets or add-ons, which are nothing but apps.
The birth of Apple’s iPhone was yet another watershed moment in the history of smartphones. Apple was just an outsider, which burst into the smartphone scene with its iPhone and quickly went on to become a leader.
The success of Apple has encouraged followers such as Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry, who are catching up fast.
Meanwhile, Nokia, which is still the largest handset seller in the world, continued its experiments with Symbian and MeeGo operating systems. It has now decided to go with Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS.
Currently, iOS devices, and Android and Research In Motion handsets dominate the market; Windows Phone 7 follows these at a distance and WebOS from Hewlett-Packard is yet to be launched.
The operating system market now looks quite crowded. Going by the history of any trade, whenever there are too many players in a field, something has to give in sooner or later.
If the past is any indication, all these OS’s have only one way to get to the top, and that is through innovation.
Like the iPad, which redefined computing, smartphones have to rediscover their purpose to be truly revolutionary.