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Vodafone vows to spike mobile platforms

Operator is working on tighter application integration with Microsoft, and aims to trim away proprietary platforms in favour of Windows Mobile and Linux
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Vodafone is to push for fewer mobile platforms, a shift which it says could benefit consumers, developers, operators and manufacturers alike.

The operator announced on Monday that it had signed a terminal platform agreement with Microsoft, with a view to tighter integration between the Windows Mobile platform and Vodafone's own applications and services.

"Both Microsoft and Vodafone have come to an agreement to standardise the use of Windows Mobile within our portfolio of phones," a spokesperson for Vodafone told ZDNet UK. "As a user you'll have a lot more shortcuts and a lot more functionality".

The move would help Windows Mobile developers become more familiar with Vodafone's preferred interface requirements, the spokesperson added, explaining that the operator envisioned a future where services could be rolled out more quickly through a degree of platform standardisation.

"At the moment there are a lot of different mobile operating systems out there, and each time new services come up there's a question of shaping them to fit each one. Ultimately — say within five years — we would like to get to a place where we have three licensable core platforms," the spokesperson said, identifying those three as Windows Mobile, Symbian/Series 60 and Linux.

Vodafone is a core member of an alliance, along with operator NTT Docomo and manufacturers Motorola, NEC, Panasonic and Samsung, which aims to develop a "unified open Linux-based software platform" for handheld devices.

Speaking about the idea of having a core of three platforms for developers to target, the spokesperson suggested that consumers would "have a much better experience as the handset will be a lot more customised towards the service" and manufacturers would have the incentive of cheaper application integration.

"We are very closely involved with our vendor partners here — we have been consulting with them a lot," the spokesperson stressed, adding that the push "does not mean to say everything else will be dead in the water".

Analyst Dale Vile of Freeform Dynamics said that, while it was true that the move would mean "the developer community knows exactly what they're aiming for in terms of platforms", there might also be "some emotional resistance to the concept of a big dominant player like Vodafone promoting and standardising on the platform of a big dominant player like Microsoft".

"In general, consolidation of platforms is an absolute necessity in the market," Vile told ZDNet UK on Monday. "If we look at parallel markets, the whole of the PC market began to take off when we saw people standardise on Microsoft and Windows — similarly, on the server side, when we saw the myriad Unix servers consolidate into just a few key platforms in the 1980s and 1990s, that helped things in terms of the availability and robustness of applications."

"The question is, how far should you go? People generally agree that the dominance of Windows in the PC world has not been in the best interests of the market in general."

However, Vile said it was a positive sign that Vodafone was "proposing a reduced set of platforms but maintaining a blend," suggesting that this strategy could be followed by its rivals.

"Many other mobile operators look to Vodafone as an example [of] how the future is going to look, so what Vodafone commits to is not only significant from the point of view of its own footprint but also the influence it will have on other operators," Vile continued, adding that Vodafone's inclusion of Linux in its list of preferred platforms is likely to have other operators quickly "falling in behind that concept".

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