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July 1, 2008

How many platforms do we need?

GLOBAL – At last week’s Symbian Foundation event, Vodafone Director and SF member, Guido Arnone lamented that in the past his network had 17 platforms to deal with when tailoring its Live! services to fit on handsets. Don’t worry, it’s since been trimmed down to a manageable three but the move by the Foundation to put all the different Symbian OS – S60, UIQ and MOAP(S) – into one melting pot for a universal Symbian platform must be manna from mobile heaven for these guys.

But while its good news for operators and developers, what of the poor old mobile consumer? Naturally, the one open source Symbian platform will mean a richer and wider range of handsets, cheaper prices and a wealth of compatible and killer apps, so it’s going be like Christmas arriving early for most of us. But does the broader picture for the consumer still smack of disparity when it comes to the number of mobile operating systems available on the market? Is this a positive situation for the consumer?

Admittedly, the unified Symbian OS has brought the mobile OS count down from around nine or ten to more healthy six, but some could argue this level of fragmentation in the market is still too high. There is undoubtedly some truth in this, but surely the industry needs healthy competition to fuel innovation and more choice for the consumer, so I personally believe there’s space for numerous platforms to happily co-exist. That said, the PC market exists quite happily with essentially three mainstream operating systems – Windows, OS X and Linux.

But all this talk of how many platforms exist and trying to strive for one de-facto mobile OS does somewhat miss the point. As Jack Gold, an analyst with J.Gold Associates LLC in the U.S., commented in the aftermath of the Symbian announcement, “A good phone is about the user experience, not the OS.”  Spot on, Mr. Gold.

So what do you think? Is there room for so many mobile operating systems in the market or do we need to cut back even further, for the sake of the consumer and the industry?