Smartphone OS sector still finding its feet

Dylan Bushell-Embling
07 Sep 2011

It's a tumultous time for the mobile OS market, with development of some platforms – WebOS, MeeGo – being scaled back, while other platforms – Samsung's Bada, Baidu's Android-based Yi – emerge.

The state of play puts me in mind of the very early years of video game consoles, particularly in North America, when the market was still emerging, and the industry structure still being established.

Some companies – such as Atari – quickly rose to a strong position in the market, but many other consoles – ColecoVision, IntelliVision, Vectrex – failed to carve out a niche big enough to shelter under during the video game crash of 1983 (an event which the smartphone sector is fortunately showing no signs of replicating).

Decades later, the console market is indisputably a three-horse race between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The barriers of entry are so high, and the relationships between hardware and software makers so entrenched, it is difficult to imagine another company being brave enough to throw their hat into the ring.

The still-emerging smartphone market is showing early signs of heading down this same path. As with games consoles, it is increasingly becoming content rather than hardware that sells handsets, so new OS contenders need to spend big to build up a developer ecosystem, and the success of a platform is starting to hinge on attracting enough app developers.

Indeed, the parallels between smartphone and console makers are striking, if you compare them at different stages of the latter market's development.

Apple can be likened to Nintendo, which kickstarted the creation of the entire post-crash console industry, and is known for great first-party content and innovative technologies but has a history of heaving restrictions on third-party developers.

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