Monday, March 12, 2007

Reality check: Where is embedded Linux?

Found via Slashdot, the New York Times published a story about how mobile operators are complaining of too many mobile phone operating systems, and the hard work of supporting them all. One of the interesting statistics in the story was provided by Canalys, a London-based market research firm. If I can believe the numbers, here's how OS use on smart phones stacks up:
  1. Symbian, at 66.7%
  2. Microsoft, at 14%
  3. Research in Motion, at 7%
  4. Linux, at 6%
This only adds up to 94% of the market, which makes me wonder how the rest of the market (6%) is divided up. Whatever.

I say it's interesting because of these numbers supplied in early 2006 by The Diffusion Group:
  1. Symbian, at 51%
  2. Linux, at 23% (double its 2004 share of 11.3%)
  3. Microsoft, at 17%
It may be that the TDG report is for all mobile phones, not just smart phones. Again, whatever.

Returning to the first article I find it interesting how some of the major players want to divvy up their supported operating systems. Vodafone wants to concentrate on just Microsoft, Symbian, and Linux. DoCoMo wants to concentrate on Symbian and Linux. That's all very well, but there are 2.5 Billion handsets out there, with over 1 Billion having been manufactured in 2006 alone. That number is a combination of handset replacement in the market along with new growth of 10% to 15% per year. The average life of any model is about 18 months. With a very large customer base and this type of turnover real innovation occurs at a much faster rate than it does in the PC market, especially in the operating system arena. This dynamic growing market is partially the result of a lesson learned from the PC market; never let any one vendor, OS or otherwise, dominate. They don't trust Microsoft. They'll work to make sure that choice remains.

If the operators want both choice and a way to deploy the same content across all platforms, then why not use Java Mobile? It seems that the majority of the mobile phones run some ARM variant, and those ARM-based chips support Java at the hardware level. They can write to one language and deploy to every platform that supports it. That's the promise of Java's WORA (Write Once Run Anywhere). If may be that not all implementations of J2ME are equal, and if that's the case, then you're right back to supporting only those platforms whose implementation meets a minimum capability. If that's the case, then that's a excellent example of the market at work. If you can't meet a market demand, then you suffer and your competitors, who can, advance. Success based on true technical merit, not strong-armed marketing tactics. Not like Microsoft in the PC OS market.

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