Operators, media divide over OS fragmentation

John C Tanner & Joseph Waring
18 Feb 2010

The mobile industry confronted the issue of platform proliferation at Barcelona yesterday, without much success.

Highlighting the divide, a BBC executive complained about OS “madness”, while a carrier CTO urged operators to accept the fragmented landscape.

Erik Huggers, director of BBC Future Media & Technology, called on telcos to get standardization right. “Twenty-one flavors of iPlayer is complete madness,” he said in a conference presentation.

“As a broadcaster we find it strange that the burden falls on us to reformat and repurpose our programming and content for every new device that happens to come to the market every six months.”

But in a keynote speech, Telstra CTO Hugh Bradlow said there were too many smartphone environments and that unification efforts like OneAPI would only go so far.

Operators should see the rise of OS-locked app stores more as competition than fragmentation and focus on being a facilitator with a high-speed network, he said.

“I can think of six to ten mobile platforms off the top of my head, and they’ll all be around three years from now,” Bradlow said. “So we have to deal with it and work with whoever wants to come in.”

That will include feature phones, he added, which also need an apps environment as smartphones only account for 15% of the market now, and will only reach the 30% mark by 2013, according to Morgan Stanley.

GSM Association CMO Michael O’Hara agreed that OS fragmentation wasn’t going away, which was why the GSMA is pushing initiatives like OneAPI to simplify the ecosystem for developers.

“There’s a massive opportunity for operators to expose their network assets and make apps more powerful in a unified way for developers,” he said.

The BBC’s Huggers said the media giant was used to a world where it broadcast once and all the receivers just work, because there was a standard.

“Is it really necessary for us to have that much of a fragmented market when it comes up apps? Do we all need to have our own proprietary apps or can the industry actually agree on a standard that ensures more innovation and makes it easier for content providers to get their services out there?”

Another speaker, Ho Soo Lee, executive vice president of Samsung’s Media Solution Center, unintentionally reinforced the point in claiming that the Korean firm’s new bada OS didn’t count as fragmentation.

“You are only fragmenting the market if you sell a small number of handsets per year, say less than 10 million,” he said. “We sold 220 million handsets last year, and bada will create huge volumes, so I don’t see bada as fragmenting the market more.”

Bradlow said that Telstra’s contribution to the apps juggernaut would be to build fast reliable wireless networks and to serve as a facilitator that can let customers access the stores they want.

“We see ourselves more as a shopping center than a store owner,” he said. “And I might add the real-life shopping center owners I know are extremely rich.”

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