As Microsoft prepares to enter the ferociously competitive mobile market with the Windows Phone 7 platform, will we end up in a situation where one mobile OS will rule us all ... or have the monolithic days of "one size fits all" thinking gone forever?
Yesterday Joe Wilcox of Betanews asked whether IDC and Gartner mobile OS forecasts can be trusted. Personally, I agree with Wilcox, they can't, but I'm always more interested in general trends that I am the specific numbers involved. Basically IDC and Gartner agree on many points - that Symbian, RIM (BlackBerry), and iOS are on the decline, while Android and the collective "Others" are on the up. The only point where IDC and Gartner disagree over is what Microsoft will do once Windows Phone 7 hits. IDC guesses predicts a small rise by 2014, while Gartner believes Microsoft will enjoy a good increase in unit sales, but lose a lot of ground in terms of market share.
When we think of smartphones it's easy to think that the entire market is dominated by Apple and the iPhone. This is because when it comes to the iOS smartphone platform, there is only one handset - the iPhone. Other OSes are represented by many devices - there's no one monolithic device representing Symbian or RIM or Android.
Note: Technically, what I've said above is not entirely accurate - iOS is on the iPhone and the iPod touch - but for the purposes of our discussion we can think of iOS as being represented by just the iPhone.
So, is there room for a new player like Microsoft to make any kind of splash in the mobile market? Well, it's a safe bet to say yes. After all, the smartphone market is growing at a frenzied pace, and since Microsoft will leverage other OEMs to make (and in many ways market) the handsets, it isn't trying to break in on one front like Apple did with the "one maker, one carrier" approach.
I think that it's a fair bet to say that Microsoft has a tough road ahead. When Apple entered into the market with the iPhone things were a lot more stagnant and complacent than they are now, so hitting the big numbers will be challenging. Sure, Microsoft has deep pockets to throw plenty of ad dollars at the problem, but that can only go so far. Microsoft's previous mobile platform - Windows Mobile - wasn't particularly well known outside of a select niche. Microsoft is going to have a hard time convincing buyers that they should choose Windows Phone 7 over Android, RIM, Symbian or iOS. What differentiates Windows Phone 7 from the other player? What differentiates the different Windows Phone 7 handsets from each other (after all, there will be several OEMs clambering for attention)?
One thing I think we're all agreed on - Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is a long, log way off from being the one mobile OS to rule us all, and probably never will be.
So, who's waiting for a Windows Phone 7 handset?