Have the mobile OS wars really been decided already?

A research report concludes that the mobile OS war has been decided and Apple's iOS and Android are the big winners. In the long run will that really be the case?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Apple's iOS and Android will be the dominant platforms for mobile operating systems and rivals can just pack it in. It's over. Kaput. Why should competitors bother? And why would developers pick anything other than Android and iOS?

That argument comes from Stifel Nicolaus analyst Doug Reid. In a research report last week, Reid said that the mobile OS war has been decided and future growth will come from the connected home.

There are hedges here, but Reid said the following in a research note:

iOS and Android are on track to dominate mobile device markets In the near term (3-12 months), we expect the rapid pace of innovation in mobile operating systems and related ecosystem content to: (1) drive industry unit growth for smartphones at levels above investor expectations (CY11E growth of 27% y/y versus 23%-24% consensus); and (2) cause unprecedented disruption to OEM market share as consumers and business users migrate to the leading mobile OS platforms—iOS and Android. Within our coverage Apple and Motorola appear best leveraged to industry trends while Research in Motion and Nokia appear vulnerable to continued market share losses and potential earnings misses.

There aren't many folks that would argue with that. Reid's other argument is that the iOS vs. Android scrum will bleed over to consumer electronics is also true. Reid argues that mobile operating systems will dominate converged platforms across smartphones and PCs---and potentially consumer electronics.

But the real thing to ponder comes in Reid's headline: Are the mobile OS wars really decided?

Consider the following:

  • Android barely existed a year ago.
  • Apple's iPhone didn't even appear until 2007.
  • Companies with vast resources---Microsoft and HP---will push their own mobile operating systems.
  • And incumbents like Nokia and RIM aren't going to roll over and die.

Simply put, anything could happen. Four years ago, you'd say the mobile OS wars were decided---and Nokia was the champ. No one would say that today. How could things change? Here are a few ideas:

  • Microsoft's persistence could make Windows Phone 7 a popular platform.
  • Fragmentation could knock Android off of its perch.
  • Nokia's developer efforts could pay off.
  • RIM QNX platform, the successor to the BlackBerry OS, could be a game changer.

A more proper argument is that the mobile OS war has been decided---for now. In the long run, this mobile OS fragmentation will be boiled down to two or maybe three winners. Today, it looks like iOS and Android are the favorites. Two years from now that may not be the case.

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