Analysis of IT news

Monday, November 05, 2007

Google announces the Open Handset Alliance

New item: when everybody was expecting Google to release a Google Phone or Gphone, the company surprised everyone by announcing the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium to develop an open platform for mobile phones, and Android, an open source operating system for mobile phones.

Analysis: after OpenSocial, Google continues in trying to gather consensus with major players instead of trying to come up with a solution on its own like a Gphone. This is a very wise move from Google. Delivering a Gphone would be in direct competition with a lot of people, no matter how great it is.

This alliance brings extra competition in the smart phone operating system market, at a time where Palm OS is on its way out. The Android operating system is in direct competition with both Microsoft Windows Mobile and Apple's embedded version of Mac OS X. Windows Mobile is, like Android, following the concept of a common operating system for smart phones whereas Apple's idea of a "common" operating system means "as long as it runs on our hardware".

Remember the good old Windows / Mac / Open Source (aka Linux) battle for the desktop computer? The same thing is happening again on the mobile phone space: Windows Mobile / Mac OS X / Open source (Android, based on a Linux kernel).

Mac OS X's main asset is the iPhone which enjoys a great popularity as well as a huge buzz. The problem is that Apple is competing against pretty much the whole mobile phone industry. Software makers of course (but here, Apple couldn't care less), but also mobile phone manufacturers like Nokia or LG and wireless carriers like Verizon or T-Mobile. The only ally they have in the U.S. is AT&T which is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone (so basically, one single ally in each country). So at the end of the day, no matter how successful the iPhone is, Mac OS X is unlikely to end up on the majority of phones out there.

Windows Mobile's strength is its parent (Microsoft) and its ties to its desktop counterpart. Microsoft indeed has long standing alliances with several phone manufacturers, and Windows Mobile is playing the integration card with products such as Microsoft Office, Outlook and even MS SQL Server.

But those two assets are everything but unsurmountable. Individual users couldn't care less about integration with Office or Outlook (they're using a web-based mail anyway). And the huge buzz around the iPhone proved that a sleek operating system is overshadowing any advantage of being branded "Windows". Corporate users might care about Office or Outlook integration, but it remains to be seen if the competition can not provide an equivalent integration.

As far as alliances, if Microsoft enjoys a head start, Redmond is not known to be too kind to its partners once it has held the control of a market (ask PC manufacturers). Furthermore, a strong competition on mobile phones might be an incentive to switch to an operating system which doesn't require royalties.

But even price set aside, Android's main upside is to be open. How is that useful for the players involved? Because it lets them customize their products or services. In a space where competition is so fierce, the various players yearn to differentiate themselves with the competitors, and Windows Mobile does just the opposite. A phone manufacturer can for example come up with a phone that detects on the fly whether the phone is horizontal or vertical (like an iPhone), it doesn't do it any good if Windows Mobile doesn't support that feature. Likewise, all the wireless carriers try hard to lock their customers in so that they don't switch to another carrier when their contract is up. Unfortunately Windows Mobile erases differences (and thus any competitive advantage) of the software layer of a smart phone. The main thing the user sees is "Windows".

An open source operating system like Android allows to provide some customization which is an opportunity to differentiate one's offer. A phone manufacturer can come up with a phone with new technical features and customize Android to support those features while enjoying the benefits of a full-fledged operating system. A wireless carrier can customize the software layer of its phone by giving it a distinctive look and feel as well as unique features.

Apple might not care too much about Android. After all, they probably believe that the competition is way behind and will never catch up. On can however expect Microsoft to counterattack, and probably not in a nice way (the company's not known to fight clean). But in any case this announcement is a very good thing for everybody because it introduces some serious competition. Linux didn't overthrow Windows off the desktop, it nonetheless was used by several companies as a bargaining chip against Microsoft. We can expect at least the same will happen here, if not more.

1 Comments:

  • La comparaison avec la bataille pour le desktop est juste mais avec une grosse différence cette fois : le timing !
    Alors que l'Open Source était entrée en jeu sur le desktop tardivement (alors que les jeux étaient fait depuis longtemps), il semble bien cette fois que le timing soit bien plus favorable : la bataille commence tout juste et MS n'est pas bien ancré sur ce marché.

    Donc, tous les espoirs sont permis !

    By Blogger Lefebvre, at 9:42 AM  

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