Mobility drove much of the action in the software landscape in Asia in 2012, thanks to the increasing proliferation of and intensifying competition between mobile devices and their operating systems.
The push toward mobility saw the launch of Windows 8 and touch-enabled, mobile-friendly editions of enterprise software for tablets and smartphones, the rise of the Aliyun mobile OS by China's Alibaba, and mobile wallet services powered by near-field communications (NFC) technology.
On the vendor front, big data similarly made waves in terms of product announcements, such as SAP's Hana in-memory database appliance, and company acquisitions and funding. IBM, for instance, bought Vivisimo in April and StoredIQ in December, to bolsters its big data portfolio.
Mobile data was a key feature in the wider big data landscape, with the prevalence of mobile app use in Asia forming rich but isolated pools of customer data. This made the developers of widely-used apps an attractive acquisition target by larger companies, which are keen to mine those external data points alongside their own.
NFC got a big lift
Across Asia-Pacific in 2012, NFC technology steadily entered commercialization with the development of ecosystems both within a country and across borders. For instance, in Singapore where NFC trials began since 2007, the country's e-wallet and mobile payments ecosystem received a shot in the arm when the consortium behind it announced the NFC infrastructure was finally live, and various payment services will be launched.
Over in Japan and South Korea, telcos NTT Docomo and KT Corporation jointly announced in October their plans to further develop cross-border NFC-based mobile payment services that their customers can use in both countries. The two will develop a cross-border service allowing NTT Docomo's customers with compatible smartphones to use a prepaid mobile payment service, called Cashbee, in South Korea. Other cross-border NFC services such as mobile payments, promotional coupons and mass-transit ticketing will also be developed.
Aliyun OS spread its wings but faced headwinds
2012 saw a spat emerged between Google, owner of the Android mobile OS, and Alibaba which created its own Linux-based Aliyun mobile OS unveiled in 2011.
The Chinese e-commerce giant started heavily promoting Aliyun OS in 2012 to position it as a better, localized alternative for domestic smartphones, dubbing it as the "Android of China". The company reasoned that the original Android OS from Google faces hurdles in China since various services, such as Gmail and Google Maps, are limited in the country.
In September, Acer canceled a Shanghai launch event of a mobile phone running Aliyun OS, reportedly due to pressure from Google. Days later, Google said Aliyun OS was a forked and incompatible version of Android, adding that Alibaba illegally used Android runtime, framework and tools to build it--allegations to which the company has denied.
Within the same month, Alibaba decided to spin off its Aliyun OS team from the Aliyun.com cloud computing division--which created it--into a separate entity. The new unit will report directly to the Alibaba Group. The Aliyun.com group was hitherto responsible for both cloud computing and mobile OS businesses, but will now focus solely on the former. Alibaba has said it will carry on with its Aliyun OS business and has no plans to make Aliyun OS compatible with the Android ecosystem despite Google's actions.
Muted Win 8 impact
Despite much fanfare leading up to the October launch of Windows 8, there appeared to be a slow start for Microsoft's latest OS aimed at both tablets and desktops.
Over in Asia, analyst Michael Barnes said he expects Windows 8 adoption to accelerate only in 2013. The vice president and research director at Forrester Research said throughout 2012, organizations in Asia were more preoccupied with managing usage and access to cloud-based services among employees who were bringing--with or without the IT department's approval--brought their own devices and technologies into the workplace.
Windows 8, whether or not viewed by users as a bridge between the PC and mobile, first has to overcome the potential compatibility issues with a company's existing or older, legacy applications, industry players told ZDNet.
Barnes also pointed out that while Windows 8 will keep Microsoft relevant in the desktop PC market over the next few years, it could remain merely a "contender in the tablets". That is because CIOs just only want to worry about one OS to control all devices via the cloud, and the current reality of OS and device fragmentation would weaken Microsoft's position in the enterprise mobility space, he explained.
More enterprise software and management got mobile
The industry phenomenon of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) is a big but not the sole reason behind the demand for mobile versions of enterprise software in Asia. Even if companies do not embrace BYOD as a practice internally, business software and its strategic management are increasingly getting a "mobile spin" in order to satisfy mobile-centric expectations of staff and customers.
According to Abhilash Pillai, senior research manager at AMI Partners, not only has the mobile workforce become more common in Asia last year, the average use of mobile devices, whether corporate or personal-owned, has gone up at work.
This ultimately changed the enterprise software marketplace, he noted. For one, vendors and developers have to think about how to create and ensure their products are compatible to all, or least most of mobile OSes featured on the widely-used devices such as iOS and Android. In addition, they had to develop and market new products that can streamline and simplify management and experience of enterprise software on PCs and mobile devices.