MWC2013: Mobile carriers and others self-delude – chasing the ever seductive OS siren call
MWC 2013 saw many OS announcements and commitments, but not from the usual culprits — Microsoft (Windows 8, various forms), Apple (iOS, various forms) or Google (Android, with all its multiple bifurcations). Instead a motley collection of desperate telephone carriers took the principle biscuit (committing to the Firefox OS); then there were Samsung (with Tizen), Canonical (with Ubuntu/Linux) and Jolla (with Sailfish, ex MeeGo). The only clear indicator amongst so muchOS enthusiasm was that these companies seem lured by the ever present siren call of owning your own OS, and to have forgotten the past.
Since the arrival of Windows back in the 1980s many have tried to build operating systems (with varying degrees of lack of success – think OS2) and then tried to establish a what is now referred to as an ecosystem– that collection of applications and developers and content platforms that combine to attract users (whether enterprise or consumer) who want to buy. Arguably only two OSs have emerged since Windows that have attained widespread adoption:
- iOS, a scaled down derivative from OS X (which in turn still comes with a BSD open source UNIX licence)
- Linux and with this its scaled-down protégé — Android.
In one case, iOS, the OS is tightly controlled and is almost an incidental in Apple’s successes of the past 10 years. In the other, Linux succeeded and continues to succeeds because it is open and without overt licence fees. When Google bought Andy Rubin’s Android Inc. it (Google) made a shrewd bet that an open OS for mobile devices could attract success — because it was not closed (like iOS) and yet was not punitively expensive (and elderly) like Windows Mobile and before this Windows CE. Both Apple and Google have progressed, not least because of their huge investment in both OSs but also because they brought applicable marketing and an acute sense of what an ecosystem means to developers, content providers and users alike.
What MWC2013 saw was a group of largely second rate mobile voice carriers (Telefónica, KDD, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint Telcom Italia, Telenor, Qtel, Singtel, VimpelCom and more) along with a miscellany of device manufacturers (Alcatel, Sony, ZTE and Huawei — placing bets every each way in the hope of winning some market share ) bellowing in envy at what Apple and Google commercially have achieved. Not fair they cry: we want a slice of the monies Apple and Google are obtaining because of our networks.
Their answer they decided (or so it would seem from MWC013) is to try to replay the OS game yet again — quite failing to remember three fundamental factors:
- OS development is hugely expensive and almost always requires more than anticipated
- designing anything by committee invariably produces a multi-humped camel of dubious attraction
- it is not just the OS which matters; equally important is attracting an ecosystem — and that neither happens overnight nor without serious investment nor without patiience and good fortune.
For enterprise’s interested in mobility Firefox OS should represents little more than a minor distraction. That is emphasized by (say) Telefónica’s avowed attitude — that the Firefoc OS is intended for low cost smartphones for Southern American markets. It seems far more probable that low cost Android, and even WindowsPhone 8, devices will appeal more, because of their existing app base.
So what of the others:
- Tizen is an open source system which seeks to provide a consistent user experience acrossmultipe device types; it is based on Linux kernel and the WebKitruntime and may have Samsung’s Bada added to it; why the world needs another Linux-dervied OS is unclear, unless (perhaps) there is specific optimization (both technical and marketing) for oriental markets (which exceed N American and Europe combined by a long way).
- Jolla’s Sailfish was formally launched at MWC 2013 and is the reinvention of Meego (ex-Nokia, Intel and the Linux Foundation) with a target of smartphones (no mention of tablets); it is, again a Linux derivative — so what is its appeal to an enterprise?
- finally there is the Canonical approach to bring Ubuntu to smartphones and tablets and personal computers; Ubuntu is proven and the concept of a fully fledged Linux implementation consistent across all three form factors could have strong enterprise appeal — if the UI is good enough; the downside is that the timeframes for even seeing anything worthwhile are so long (into 2014 and beyond) that it may simply be left behind.
From the enterprise mobility viewpoint, MWC2013 offered four different Linux-based initiatives to add to Andoid. Of these only one, that from Canonical, seems to have a real IT as well as consumer logic behind. The other three are, at least for 2013 and 2014 and probably 2015, almost irrelevant — however much their proponents trumpet. The killer, in each case is likely to be a mix of enterprise dissatisfaction combined with apathy as well as minimal app developer and content provider ecosystems. But that does not stop the siren song of owning an OS attracting the foolish (which is why Odysseus had himself tied to the mast — something that many mobile carrier and device mnufacturer executices should have also copied).