Battle of mobile platforms is taking off

After Apple launched the Iphone 3G last summer, T-mobile will begin rolling out the Android platform in The Netherlands. Within weeks the HTC G1 will be available (the phone has been out in the USA since October and in the UK since November). And now, to the surprise of the whole industry Palm made a strong comeback with the Palm Pre, running their brand new OS called webOs. It has been announced at CES just last week, but yet has to get reviews and into the market.

So, it seems that we have at least 2 strong players with an outsider (Palm) ready to bring mobile computing to the next level, and really change that thing in our pockets and hands into a computer with a small screen instead of just an apparatus to call and text with. It’s not about that anymore, it’s about all the applications that you can run on.

What will determine the success of these platforms?

  • user experience: usability, seamless integration, slick looks: Apple with having one device, one manufacturer has controls hardware, OS, store has created a complete package with eco-system around it. And of course it’s experience with good user interfaces and design for Mac and Ipod has given it a head start. Android is not a complete deal but a platform, that hardware manufactures have to run on their phones that will come in many shapes and forms.
  • good apps that can easily be purchased:
    • developer support: good language and good tooling. Apple offers Objective-C with a number of UI libraries, together with their IDE Xcode. Android is for 95 % Java, that is supported by Eclipse plugins. This means that all those Java developers out that can start creating Android apps in no time, while much less Objective-C developers are out there. Learning Objective-C and XCode will take some time for developers from other platforms.
    • easy app stores to browse, look, buy and download applications. Apple’s app store has already proved to be a success. Android’s app store has yet to kick in. Maybe multiple app stores will become available, that certainly will be more open but also more fragmented than Apple’s.
    • the creation of an ecosystem that makes it profitable for developers to create apps for a platform is crucial for turning phones into a mobile computing platform. Until now the Apple app store has been a success, offering free and paid apps. Selling an app is just submitting the app to the store, although Apple has rejected apps for unclear reasons. This means that you do not know if your investment will make any money untill you submit the app, which is definitely a bad thing. Also installation of apps should not be limited by telco settings or anything.
  • good availability of devices. For now Apple has chosen to sell the Iphone in most countries only together with a subscription plan with a mobile operator. For instance, if you are with but want an Iphone, you’re stuck. Of course the device is expensive (you can get it simlock free in Belgium for 650-700 EUR), but why not let users buy it simlock free? Android devices when on the market will soon be available in all kind of forms, and with or without subscription packages.
  • pricing: Apple is and will always be a brand that focuses on quality and less on competing on price. Android is open source and free, so let’s see if any manufacturer will create a cheap but powerful Android phone.

And oh yeah, where are the mobile manufacturers? Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson? Motorola apparently is getting ready to move over to Android.  Nokia still hangs on to Symbian, but that OS never got the leverage Iphone OS and Android seem to get. It will take a while though before Nokia admits that Symbian is dead, and that is has to switch over. So apparently it took computer companies to move over to the mobile industry to really make phones a success as a computing platform. Let’s hope they do not turn Android into a fragmented market that brings no value to end users and developers.

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