The mobile phone industry has finally begun a move towards standardisation of both hardware and software, aping the rise of the personal computer industry.
Open Source platforms that allow developers to create a large basket of applications for increasingly standardised hardware are reshaping the value chain and have also given market players the ability to create newer products targeted at small consumer groups.
The recent launch of Android by Google has ignited an open war of cutting-edge innovation that will also create newer focus groups, said Gordon Atkins, a senior developer from Seattle, United States.
Competitors Apple, Google, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Linux-based Open Source platform LiMo and Nokia's Symbian have begun to accept applications and services will now become crucial to growth, said Seema Haji, a technical manager in Silicon Valley.
"Mobile phone technology is not just about voice anymore. Features such as global positioning, social networking and interactive user interfaces are determining the usefulness and effectiveness of these devices," she said.
Industry representatives credit this shift in product development to the swift growth of the smart phone segment and the success of the iPhone. In a market where most consumers bought phones based on their aesthetic value, smart phones created a demand driven by specific offerings of office applications.
The iPhone created interest in mobile web and Google's G1 is drawing customers seeking web services on mobile devices. The strategy is simple – offer devices with strong applications.
Original equipment manufacturers such as Nokia and Samsung have now begun outsourcing components to specialised original design manufacturers like HTC to address this demand.
"The user interface and operating system are now being developed separately," said Atkins. "Software and hardware are becoming modularised – which allows different combinations of both. Manufacturers can no longer ignore the potential of offering the same device with different operating systems, interfaces and applications," he said.
Nokia recently opened its Symbian platform to developers. By giving them access to code the manufacturer has called for a bevy of applications previously not considered.
Simultaneously, the company is also working with Linux (whose modular architecture allows cross sharing of hardware and software), though it has not joined any Linux consortia (LiMo, Android et al).
Opening mobile platforms entices developers to use that platform. The number of devices the platform runs on, the cost to build an application for that platform and complexity of the platform itself are other factors developers take into consideration.
"Nokia has now opened Symbian. The iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile are already open. This is rapidly becoming a developer's market, since the focus today is clearly on applications and services," Atkins said.
A quick look at strategies adopted by OEMs reveals the change. Undisputed market leader Nokia has focused on scale and convergence. Sony Ericsson's success has come from their focus on handsets that optimise a single function. The launch of XPeria showcases their desire to cement a place in the smart phone market. Samsung and LG customise handsets for operators, thus giving them a piece of market share.
The iPhone revamped the billing relationship ensuring handsets were no longer subsidised. Yet, people lined up to buy the Apple creation.
Mobile web became a differentiating factor. And developers cashed in with a plethora of applications for iPhone users. Now, Google is addressing a different problem of making web services usable on mobile devices. Android, for example, allows photographs to be accessed from online services, not just phone memory.
So why is the industry changing and moving towards application development and open source on cell phones?
"Because of the end user – they want more," Seema Haji said. "Whether it is enabling location finding services on cell phones that lack GPS – Google is doing this – or improved browsing and interfaces for enterprise users – Blackberry through the Bold and Storm – or access to data anytime, anywhere – iPhone – mobile device companies cannot keep up with user requirements for improved technology, so they are opening it up to the market and moving it to the application developer.
"The end-user perspective of mobile phones is changing due to the move from non-real-time business communication to real-time and near-real-time access to information and is determining who the popular players are in the mobile computing market.
"For example, when people think of the BlackBerry, they tend to think of it only in terms of business users accessing enterprise information. However, it has now become much more than that – a device that is easing communication through improved browsing and instant messaging or access to social networking sites such as Facebook.
"Then you have devices such as the iPhone that are designed keeping the casual user in mind. In my perspective, Apple was trying to address a large audience, from the casual end-users to enterprise users, but failed miserably in the amalgamation of these two worlds."
Pros & Cons
-Focus on lucrative premium market
-Powerful marketing strategy
-Unparalleled design focus
-Leads industry on accessories
-Limited manufacturing line
-Lack of handset options in colour or size
-No smartphone solution yet
-Unmatched on web services
-Strong revenue stream
-Allows applications to compete with its exisiting ones
-Will develop numerous phone lines, providing plenty of choice
-New entrant, still understanding market
-Minimal revenue success outside core business
-Has dismal marketing strategy
-Will suffer teething issues
MICROSOFT WIN MOBILE
-Large number of manufacturers and carriers
-Seamless connectivity to back end offerings like Windows
-Leading in enterprise focus
-Deep financial resources
-Lacks effective execution (Delayed Mobile 7 platform)
-Lacks an Application Store
-Easiest-to-use phone product in its segment
-Has broad line of products
-Focus on security
-Robust phones,boasting long battery life
-Hasn't tapped larger consumer market
-Lagging in application store
-Still to fully grow back end services