Universal Mobile Interface

The operating system forest may turn into a jungle

Posted in UMI by Martin Vendel on December 1, 2009

First when the mobile phone became a device for more that voice and sms we started to worry about the different operation systems. Ringing tones and games were down loaded and we started to surf the operator WAP portals. The non voice services were taking off and the enthusiasm was high. This was though shown to be rather difficult to manage for the content providers and operators due to different operating systems and even variations depending on phone model and brand. Many versions of each individual game had to be developed and we had to keep track of exactly what phone model the end user had and sometimes even the software version of the particular phone model.

The kind of obvious solution to the issue was to try to agree on open standards and platforms and harmonise the different operating systems. One solution after the other was announced to facilitate the further development, new operating systems such as Symbian, operator initiatives on common device specifications, and languages such as Java. But Symbian ended up being owned by Nokia, operator initiatives never materialised fully and a language such as Java ended up in many different versions. Why? The strategic agendas of the device manufacturers and the operators as well as others in the ecosystem were not aligned and most players thought they had more to lose than to gain through cooperation. All claimed to supports open standards but the drive to differentiate and keep competition out was evidently stronger. This has resulted in a forest of operating systems significantly increasing the barriers to innovation and decreasing the efficiency of the industry.

Then Apple iPhone added further to the complexity, having a very positive impact on the take up of new services but being a vertical it added yet another operating system. Next solution that we then hoped for was Android, being a free software and open source and we finally seemed to get closer to making it all more simple for the developer community. But is this really the case?

Now device manufactures, such as Motorola, start doing their own versions of Android. Where will an Android quickly mutating itself get us? If we to the present complexity and all verticals add a number of versions of Android, similar but not similar enough, this will not make it easier but rather turn the present operator system forest into a jungle. A decrease in number of operating systems that all know would make life easier and spur innovation is obviously a too scary thought for most and will most probably not happen within the coming five to ten years. The only short to mid term solution that seems available is to add a layer on top of all existing operating systems creating a virtual common operating system interface. This will make it much easier to reach the mobile users and minimise the hassle created by the jungle of operating systems. This needs to be made in a way so that the overall performance is not set by the weakest system and so that we achieve a good enough overall user experience.