Mobile OS Wars

2012 is building up to be a great year in terms of mobile operating systems releases. Look at the line up – Apples iOS 6 due in fall, Googles Jelly Bean in July(!) and Microsofts Windows Phone 8 (WP8 hereon). Unfortunately like most things in life, each has its own catch.

iOS will have great hardware(iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches) and wonderful apps(which is in part possible because of the amazingly high adoption ratio of newer iOS releases by consumers). The problem here is that the OS is ‘held back’ by a UI that seems to have stagnated since inception. Even feature wise, iOS does not bring anything ground-breaking to the table. Nothing new has come out to spice things up and Apple still controls the (admittedly good) entire ecosystem with an iron fist.

Jelly Bean looks to be a top-notch OS update with excellent features for both end-users and for developers. Jelly Bean builds on ICSs excellent polish and makes it even better. Sadly Android has very poor adoption rates. If Jelly Bean touches the 10%(being very generous here) mark in terms of OS adoption, it will be a miracle. Another problem is that hardware manufacturers don’t seem to be in-sync with Googles internal update cycle – why else would you have the Galaxy S3 release a month or so before Jelly Bean? Come July, the Galaxy S3 will be one version below the latest and greatest from Google. Thats a real shame.

To me, WP8 is the most exciting of the lot. If Microsoft doesn’t gain ground with this release of its mobile operating system, it probably never will. What makes it more interesting is that along with WP8, Microsoft is re-imagining Windows too – they are making huge bets in the mobile, the table and the PC market. Anyhow, the Windows Phone Summit last week clearly showed that WP8 has immense potential to become very successful. It easily has the most exciting and functional UI of the three OSes with its live-tiles and panoramas and hubs. Unfortunately, with WP8 Microsoft is essentially starting ground up – no existing WP7 owner can upgrade his phone to WP8. I would argue that this was necessary – the advantages in the long term(WP8 is very scalable) and of a shared core between WP8 and Windows 8 far outweigh the disadvantages of starting afresh(especially since they have a pretty low market share right now). Still its a big risk to alienate existing users.

The stakes were never higher, it will be interesting to see how this pans out by the end of the year. Whether Apple is able to maintain its market share, whether Android can stop having more than 5 different versions out in the wild and whether Microsoft is able to pull of the biggest gamble it has made ever!

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