Wireless News Desk
Convergence or Divergence
Will the big PC and Internet players turn mobile phones into PCs?
Feb. 15, 2008 04:15 PM
Google and Apple’s publicized emergence onto the scene of the mobile industry is the latest consequence of the mobile phone becoming a best-selling device and a driver of growth in the telecom industry. All the big PC and Internet players want a piece of the pie, and IT industry pundits announce that finally the mobile phone will become mini-PCs. In fact, it is more likely that the PC and Internet players will have to adapt their thinking and practices in order for them to compete in the mobile phone industry.
These operating systems were expected to ship around 145 million
units in 2007 with Symbian OS making up well over half (Richard Winsor, Nomura,
Oct. 2007). While this seems impressive compared to the number of PCs shipped
every year, it is only around 13% of the mobile phone market. The remaining 950
million are based on proprietary operating systems. The key proprietary
operating systems are:
There are no independent volume forecasts for these operating systems, but we estimate they probably make up more than 650 million of the 950 million mobile phones based on proprietary operating systems.
Due to the broad availability of different operating systems, Java has become a very popular programming language supported on most phones in the market. The mobile version of Java is called MIDP and implements a limited set of APIs. Due to this limitation in available APIs and some fragmentation caused by the standardization process, Java is mainly used for games downloaded via service providers’ portals. There is no serious market for other types of applications.
While the PC market has converged on one dominated platform,
signs in the mobile market indicate that it will evolve into distinct segments
where different operating systems will play their role. At the high end of the
market will be the open operating systems running on smartphones. These
smartphones will be sold into the
To be successful in the mobile phone industry, PC and Internet players need to understand and embrace this complexity, which involves a large investment in resources both up front and ongoing. But the fragmentation of the mobile platform doesn’t end there.
Software Storage and Execution
In the mobile market, this is not the case. Although the memory architecture for high-end
smartphones has started to look like PCs and processor speeds are improving
gradually, mobile phones are constrained on two fronts. First, mobile phones
are battery powered, so although processors are getting faster according to
The mobile phones of today barely resemble those of old. For
early mobile phones, the majority of the software load was responsible for
running the signaling stack. It was small and could be held in a limited amount
of NOR flash
We now have a situation where the storage medium used for handsets is very different across the high to low end. At the high end, there is no doubt that NAND flash will dominate and there will be plenty of it. NAND offers a good balance of characteristics including power consumption, density, cost, and functionality. These constraints do not exist entirely in the PC world, which evolved much earlier and typically now have a simple BIOS held in flash ROM and a large binary OS image stored on spinning disks. Spinning disks have many benefits but consume more power than a solid state medium such as flash ROM and are not generally as well packaged as the solid state equivalents.
As we move to the mid-tier and low-end handsets, it is more
likely that NOR flash will be used. It enables the mobile phone manufacturers
to hit the right price points with a limited set of functionality. As the
market develops, and the battery-constrained
In summary, those wishing to enter the mobile phone market must pay careful attention to the key user requirements and architect their software and hardware solutions to give the optimum user experience for the target segment.
Distribution of Software
In the mobile phone market, things are not as easy. There is no common operating system to program against. Many handsets contain a Java Virtual Machine. This allows new functionality to be downloaded to the device over the air, but provides only a limited execution environment. This has limited the use of Java applications to mostly games. 'Open platforms' such as those using Symbian OS or Windows Mobile do allow the user to download native applications to the device. Typically both of these approaches do not allow the core functional applications to be enhanced or replaced.
Most handset vendors have also implemented a Firmware update Over-The-Air (FOTA) solution. According to a recent study from Ovum, nearly 400 million phones have shipped with FOTA to date. By end of 2009, 85% of all phones are expected to have FOTA embedded. This allows handset vendors or service providers to make updates available to all parts of the phone software over-the-air.
Both firmware update and application installation techniques can also be performed via a cable. When a manufacturer has very large images and no mature delta update / installation software, this may be the only solution available to customers to update their phones. This is the case with Apple, which has based its firmware update solution on the iTunes / iPod model. This is due to the extreme size of the software in the iPhone devices, rumored to be in excess of 500MB.
A way of merging the benefits of application installation and firmware update can be realized through implementation of an emerging open standard known as SCoMO (Software Component Management Object), defined by the Open Mobile Alliance Device Management working group. With this enabler, both applications installed to open phones, Java applications, and embedded firmware components can be remotely managed (installed, stopped, started, etc.) in a standardized way. This should help to reduce complexity and increase the distribution of all types of software to mobile handsets.
Distribution of software in the mobile phone market is more complex than in the PC and Internet world. To be successful in the mobile phone market, the new players need to understand which segment of the market the company wishes to address. If the focus is purely on the smartphone market, it is appropriate to stay with native programming and distribute the particular application via the various operators and independent portals. If the business case warrants a broader penetration, Java has to be taken into account and companies will be required to work directly with the handsets manufacturers to get the software embedded into the handset.
As we move forward with SCoMO, there will be new cross-platform technologies available that will make distribution of software much easier. To influence the development of these technologies, participation in standards organizations, like the Open Mobile Alliance, can be advantageous.
Internet and PC players should also be very careful to not
Finally, the distribution of software is significantly
different in the mobile market. It is important for new players to consider how
wide a market space they would like to cover. Based on this assessment,
programming language and distribution channels need to be considered. Where the
business case extends all the way to the mid and low end, PC and Internet
companies will soon realize they no longer have direct access to consumers and
will be required to build up relationships with the handset manufacturers to get
their software embedded at launch.
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