Elance Blog

The Mobile OS Battle: What About the East?

Being a smartphone app developer has its own pros and cons. The obvious merit— one gets to work on cutting edge technology. The biggest downside—it’s often difficult to keep pace with the changing global dynamics of smartphone platforms. If the last couple of months are any indication, it would probably be wise to refrain from making any predictions on what’s coming next.

In fact, the status quo of global smartphone platforms indicates a strong geographical divide between the east and the west. While the west has its share of established leaders (iOS, Android), emerging players (WP7) and struggling tailenders (Symbian, BlackBerry OS), it’s a different story in the east. Regional players are no longer afraid to take on the might of biggies such as Apple and Google and companies such as Alibaba (Aliyun), Baidu (Yi) and China Unicom (WoPhone) have joined the fray.

Wild Wild West
In developed nations, iOS and Android currently rule the roost while Windows Phone is gradually moving up the ladder. Nokia’s attitude towards Symbian effectively means that Windows Phone will eventually replace the former as its preferred smartphone operating system sooner than later.

Research in Motion, perhaps, once considered the ‘darling of the enterprise’ and the most innovative company across the border, seems lost in its old world. Hit hard by service outages, dipping investor confidence and a mass exodus of key personnel, RIM has hit an all-time low and despite the upcoming BlackBerry QNX platform.

Samsung’s took a gamble with its dual-OS strategy and it paid off partly – establishing Bada as a formidable force in the low-end smartphone segment. Nonetheless, Samsung still relies on Google’s Android in the segment which matters most, and all’s not well. On one hand, it’s locked in an intense legal battle with Apple over patent infringement. On the other hand, it fears Google’s alleged preferential treatment to Motorola. The company now plans to open-source Bada next year in a bid to gather community support from developers and manufacturers.

Emerging East
Though most of the high-profile action has been restricted to the west, a number of budding smartphone OS vendors have silently gone about their business. While the smartphone platform war in the west is all about established, formidable forces, the east has an interesting mix including startups, telecom vendors, smartphone manufacturers and even another online search giant, Baidu.

Baidu and Google aren’t’ the best of friends. Whether it’s online search, social media or a smartphone platform, the two companies seem to cross each other’s paths on any foreseeable opportunity. Baidu beat Google in the search game in China and if the recent developments are any indication, it seems that Badu’s seen enough of Android.

The Chinese online search giant has developed its own cloud-based mobile operating system called Baidu Yi (which translated to ‘easy’). The company plans to leverage its search expertise to ensure that web searches on Yi-enabled phones are instantaneous. Yi also features an eBooks app (Yue), a Google-places clone (Shen Bian), Baidu-powered maps, and a music app (Ting). Though it’s in its early days, Baidu vs. Android promises to be a mouthwatering prospect in China.

Aliyun, another smartphone platform originated in the east, has been in the news primarily because it offers the best of both worlds – it lets users run cloud-based web applications and is also ‘fully compatible’ with Google Android apps. Developed by Alibaba, each Aliyun device is expected to offer 100 GB of data storage on its AliCloud service.

And then there are wireless carriers such as China Unicom, who have tried their hand at building homegrown smartphone platforms (read WoPhone) on top of Linux but the end product has failed to impress.

Given its global presence and strong sales in the American region, it would be unfair to categorize HTC as an eastern entity. None the less, the Taiwanese company has off late hinted at building its own mobile OS and if that happens, it would perhaps be the biggest competitor for its western counterparts.

One thing is for sure – though the west remains in the thick of the action, the east can no longer be ignored. Whether it’s the $35 Indian tablet that some call the future of computing, a large manufacturer community itching to build its own platform or the unique focus on combining the best of mobile and cloud, the eastern countries look well poised to contribute their bit to the global smartphone platform wars.

About the Author:
Septillion Developers are seasoned technology professionals with more than a decade of experience in Mobile, Web 2.0 and Open Source Technologies.


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