Two smartphones manufactures have their backs to the wall. RIM and Nokia. Both of these manufacturers develop their own operating systems and build their own hardware. When Google Android O.S. hit the market, it breathed new life hardware manufacturers like HTC, Motorola and to a certain extent Samsung and LG. Unlike Apple's iPhone and its iOS, which a high end device which is targeted at a limited market, Android O.S. phones are available at all price ranges, from budget smartphones to top end devices.
BlackBerry is in a somewhat better position. First, BlackBerry, is not just a device. It is a service consisting mainly of its push email and BlackBerry messenger service. If your company uses a BlackBerry enterprise server, moving to a different mobile operating system will be a major decision with implication for the companies I.T. department. Second, while BlackBerry market share is falling in its most important market, the United States, it is actually gaining market share in other markets like the Philippines. Just two years ago, BlackBerry services were limited to business clients. Today, they are available to the regular consumer at reasonable rates.
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Still, RIM can see the writing on the wall. In fairness, they have been hedging against it for some time. The BlackBerry Storm, a touchscreen phone without a physical keyboard, was BlackBerry's entry into the new field of touchscreen smartphones. However, it operating system and hardware did not compare too well against its Apple, and later Android, rivals. BlackBerry than tried another variant, the Torch, a touchscreen phone with a slide out QWERTY keyboard.
In the end, no matter what RIM does with its hardware, it really is not going to regain it former glory without a new operating system. And by all indications, RIM has a good one. RIM has already displayed its new QNX operating system in its Playbook tablet. Suffice it to say, it pretty much impressed everyone.
Nokia, tried to enter BlackBerry space with its own push email and messenger service, but ultimately its market depends on the prestige of its brand. With its marker share falling, we have been wondering where Nokia was heading. Clearly, they needed to upgrade their hardware to current standards with faster processors and higher resolution screens, but they also need a new operating system which can actually take advantage of all this technology.
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Late last year it seemed like MeeGo would be its high end operating system with Symbian^3 being relegated to its mid-level phones, with the Nokia N8 being the last flagship phone to feature Symbian^3. Later Nokia affirmed it support for Symbian^3, and MeeGo's future seemed to be in doubt. Rumors of Nokia building Windows Phone 7 devices or jumping to Android circulated on the net. It looks like MeeGo is back. The Nokia N9 which is expected to be announced next month is rumored to run on the MeeGo OS. Short of jumping ship, MeeGo looks like Nokia's best bet. No amount of updating Symbian^3 will bring it to Apple iOS or Google Android levels. Nokia also needs an OS that can run on tablets.
RIM will send forth QNX later this year. We expect to see MeeGo from Nokia by April. It is really do or die for RIM and Nokia. These are their last show into the mobile OS space before they give up their market share to iOS and Android, and loose this round of the mobile OS wars.
The hard part about moving to a new OS, is loosing all the Apps built for the previous versions. Windows Phone 7 is having a go at it. Microsoft does have the resources to build-up a App store, but even with MS backing, Windows Phone 7 is having some pretty rough sailing. Can RIM and Nokia do it too?