Who Cares About the OS?

Aaron Powers, Head of Business Development at Vyke Communications, offers a personal take on the launch of the Googles first Android OS phone

Its hard to avoid hearing about Android lately, which is frankly
rather odd. Sure, mobile phone operating systems are technically
important, and Android, from a mobile software developers perspective,
holds a tremendous amount of promise. However, with very few exceptions
(related mostly to Microsofts integration of its mobile OS into its
enterprise software), consumers just dont care what operating system
powers their mobile phone. The average consumer buys a mobile phone
based on a) does it look nice; b) status (i.e.,will others covet this
phone?); and c) does it do what I want? Assuming that the relevant
operating system supports the features that the consumer wants, this
decision is entirely hardware-led.

Software counts
Is this changing? The short answer is
Yes. Nokias Download! platform and, to a greater extent, iPhones
App Store have proven that the mass market is ready for the idea of
running third-party software and services on their phones. Therefore,
the reasoning goes, we are not too far away from the point where people
will decide to buy a phone with one operating system or another based
on the selection of software available for it. How many Playstations
has the stalwart game Grand Turismo sold?
What does this have to do
with Android? This free and open operating system (as it is touted
in the press) is supposed to be a haven for developers, which fits
perfectly with the trend towards third-party software. And, from what
the mobile developer community has seen, Android holds a lot of promise
in this regard.
But mobile software development is tricky. Every
popular mobile application needs to be released in a number of
iterations so that users of phones based on Symbian, Microsoft, Apple
etc.,can all use it. Furthermore, there are often large differences
between handsets using the same operating system made by the same
manufacturer, requiring more iterations of the same software. This adds
exponentially to the cost of developing new mobile software and, on the
opposite side, also limits the number of users that can use a
particular software version. Or, simply put, more mobile operating
systems = higher costs and lower returns for mobile software developers.

Just another OS
Until Android takes significant market
share, it is just one more operating system that mobile developers need
to throw into a business case to see if makes sense to develop for.
Right now, hardware, i.e. the mobile phones themselves, is the front
line of the mobile OS war. To make any impact, Google has no choice but
to place it on as many of the seasons top phones as possible.
brings us to the latest development in the Android saga The HTC
Dream. The blogosphere has had just about everything to say about it
between the bookends of amazing and  total rubbish, so just decide
how you feel about it and you can find a supporting voice. However, the
bottom line is that the phone is a huge disappointment, not because of
what it is (which is actually pretty decent), but for what it is not.
It is NOT the phone that should have been chosen as the first Android
handset out in the market it is NOT sexy, it does NOT have any
exemplary features and, last time I checked, HTC handsets dont score
very high on the desirability scale. The phone is pointed straight
down Mediocre Avenue. Remember the thing about Android being free and
open? Well, that boat has a hole in it as well T-Mobile in the US
loves the whole open platform thing unless you mention mobile VoIP,
which T-Mobile prevented the Dream from supporting. So, zero points
there for Android (and Nokia/Symbian have been supporting mobile VoIP
since 2006).
If Google wants to win in the mobile OS war, their
opening shot went wildly off target. The magnitude of Androids impact
will be directly proportional with the market share Android captures,
and market share is won with hardware, not operating systems. Which
brings us back to where we started that no one really cares about a
mobile operating system.