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Microsoft vs. Nokia

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A recent article in The Economist about the battle between Microsoft and Nokia for operating system supremacy on wireless instruments (Smartphones) concluded that Nokia with its Symbian OS based Series 60 SDK was already the victor over Microsoft's Smartphone 2002 SDK, writes Rick Rowell.

The victory declaration was based on the number of licensees that each had signed and the number of models that would be shipped with either SDK in EMEA and forecasted in the US and APAC. The reason given for the Nokia victory was the 'fear of Microsoft' extending their hegemony to the mobile device market.

Not even close, I'm afraid.

Based on its stock market value, Microsoft is the most valuable corporation in the world. By comparison, Palm looks small and anaemic having seen both its growth days and stock price wither on the vine. Yet, Microsoft has not been able to eliminate Palm. In fact, Palm increased the number of licensees for its OS last year (2002) while Microsoft essentially lost a major one (in the HP/Compaq merger).

Palm OS is currently shipping in more Smartphones as well. Why? Palm OS was built from the ground up for devices with limited computing power, memory and screen size. Microsoft 'shrank' its Windows OS to 'fit' the PDA market. Apparently the diet was ineffective. Pocket PC is still a bloated OS for a portable device by any measurement. Can anyone introduce me to a PDA user who regularly edits Excel and Word files on their PDA?

The same can be said of the Smartphone market. Microsoft's Smartphone 2002 is an oversized OS requiring high computing power, sufficient memory and high resolution screens that all conspire to drastically shorten battery life. Series 60 offers the same functions as 2002 while requiring moderate improvements from a base phone with a slight reduction in battery life. We all know that battery life is the key to portability and utility in a mobile device of any kind.

Series 60 was developed from the ground up for a small platform (from the original Psion OS). However not all of the Symbian partnership are using the same Symbian OS SDK. Series 60 is Nokia's own internally modified version. Most of the other licensees, until recently, were modifying or using other versions of Symbian OS SDK. Until the current acceptance of Series 60 as the standard, none of the applications written for one manufacturer's Symbian OS device would operate on another manufacturer's device. Surprising isn't it. So why did Series 60 become the standard? Look at worldwide cellular handset shipments and you know the answer. Nokia is the king.

Smartphone 2002 is another tribute to Microsoft's belief that users want to edit Word files on whatever device is in their hands. So they started with the Windows OS and began cutting. But there is a limit to the amount of weight you can lose and still maintain 'necessary' Windows compatibility.

Look at the Orange SPV versus the Nokia 7650 or SonyEricsson P800. The functionality is impressive in the SPV, but the memory and processor overhead are significant for a cellular device. The Symbian OS devices were both able to incorporate the cameras into the body of their handsets; the SPV camera is an external add-on. The SPV requires plug-in memory cards to support some of its features. The P800 accepts memory sticks, but has 12MB of internal memory still available for file storage after the OS and features are loaded. The SPV has 100 hours stand-by time; 7650 and P800 each have 400 hours stand-by time.

Then there is the cost per device for Smartphone 2002 SDK. The royalty was reported to be about $5 per shipping device. If the Symbian partners were to ship a total of 400 million units per annum and just 10% of them were Smartphones, then $200 million in royalties would go to Microsoft. Clearly, it is cheaper to support the Symbian development only. The Symbian partners can also recapture costs from licensing the OS to those manufacturers who are not Symbian partners, and selling the SDK to independent developers. The figures don't make a decent proposition for Smartphone and Microsoft is thus a loser.

It appears that the first portable OS competition Microsoft will win is for Tablet PC's - but there it has no competition, and we have yet to see if there is a sizeable market. ©' IT-Analysis.com

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