All about mobile OS; the journey so far and the direction in which this phenomenon is moving
No other product release invokes the curiosity and excitement as does the iPhone in the mobile world
Scores watch the gala event of a new iPhone release that takes place every year in US, live, from across the globe. My kids find only the Apple event worth waking up and watching, besides EPL or European League matches, studies have never been that enticing.
Personally, I have never understood the phenomenon & brouhaha except that there would be few more features and some of those available only on the devices that are also launched simultaneously, as part of the event.
However, there is lot more to it.
Brief history of Mobile OS, why the hardware has ceded the limelight
When the mobile world was ruled largely by Nokia and in pockets by Samsung, Ericsson, Siemens, LG & HTC and interface was more of a hardware button on the device, people rarely bothered to know what OS was running behind the screen.
Transferring songs on micro storages, listening to radio and long battery backup were the features that often-determined product success. Few pre-deployed games sweetened the deal for a buyer. Durability, Camera, Battery Power & Storage were prime considerations while selecting a phone. And, oh yes, easy battery replacement, large external storage and swanky headphone were other attractions.
Nokia, the biggest player in Mobile market until about 2010, had its own OS and controlled 37% of the market, followed by Samsung & LG at 22 and 9% respectively. Apple was lucky to be even mentioned in the chart with 3%. Remember, it was just 10 years back.
Apple brought the OS to frontend and introduced its own ecosystem
Apple released its iPhone 3 in 2008, it was perhaps the first touch screen only product which was tightly integrated with Apple’s own software and captive app store. This was quite a revolutionary step in direction that was to shake up the mobile market.
Apple spent formative years of its OS development handling some of the very basic and rudimentary (not then though) apps feature such as ease of messaging and had no clear differentiator to make it look too attractive. All that changed with iPhone 4, which was released in middle of 2010.
Blackberry in the meantime, with its core strength of data security and proprietary mailing service, had taken over the work space and corporate world. BB messenger and device soon became a status symbol in most of the world. Typing long email on device and staying connected 24/7 became so cool, and hot. Such was the focus on the mailing service that there was hardly any impetus on OS use, adding the fun component on that. BB believed in its own captive world of users. And user had to pay for Mails, wait what? Really?
Nokia trusted its own history and tried to meet the rising competition from Samsung & LG (powered by Android) by creating its own OS called Symbian in 2010. Nokia believed that its superior and reliable hardware would be able to fend off the onslaught of superior user experience (UX) and interface (UI) of Apple and Android. A mistake, already a chapter in history.
Microsoft, after taking over Nokia, also launched its own Mobile OS, Windows 10, and registered some successes initially, only to realize the futility of pursuing its own OS program.
Another noticeable player with its own OS was Huawei, a Chinese giant with big plans to rule the Front End (Phones) and Backend (Network and Hardware) of Mobile world. Huawei released its own OS around 2015 and is still used extensively in mainland China.
Here is the thing. In Mobiles, the differentiator is also the number of applications that are available with the OS that is running on the device
Most of the application developers deserted Microsoft, Blackberry & Huawei to focus on iOS and Android Play Store. If that happens, then there is no hope for an OS to survive. Microsoft & Blackberry met that fate.
Next 5 years changed the Mobile World
Android upped the ante of OS world with massive releases that gave flexibility to Phone Manufactures to deploy the OS and to introduce their own proprietary solutions through ADK. Many big manufacturers like Samsung, LG and most of the Chinese Phone makers quickly adopted Android as the product of choice.
Nokia, now under Microsoft, at this point of time gave up on Windows 10 and shifted to Android, same with Blackberry, which tried to fight the tide by deploying two OS on its devices, using Android to make product more user friendly and allowing access to Google Play Store.
Apple, on the other hand, issued iPhone 4 in 2010 on iOS 4.0 kept releasing its high end devices with a new version almost every year to reach iPhone 12 by 2020. Apple, with its endeavor to provide similar experience to user on other devices such as iWatch and iPad, kept releasing the OS that seamlessly integrated the information across platforms.
Both iOS and Android platforms also integrated push mail to their ecosystem and even allowed to deploy security policies for official mails to move away a large chunk of corporate users to their devices. Blackberry suddenly disappeared and market opened wide with plenty of choices for buyers using the phone for their office work.
UI and UX became the backbone of Mobile World
Android’s availability to manufacturers of mobile phones from different segments enabled a wide range of products that hit the market in quick succession. Keeping the hardware separate from the OS and the Play Store (app store) allow manufactures to experiment with phones in different size, shapes, colours and features such as on-screen biometric, popping up camera, integrating the stylus and even using the sides of phone to run scrolling information.
Open ecosystem of Android powered the imagination of developers who kept releasing features rich applications as also the ones that leveraged the hardware, such as tapping to lock and unlock the device and camera application that achieved amazing results with digitally enhanced images.
Price point and fierce competition in smart phone market saw releases of new phones at frantic pace, creating a mismatch in quality of product between competing manufacturers, often using the same OS. Samsung & LG continued to be on top of the chart with expensive phones while Google too came out with its own flagship products.
Chinese, Korean and Indian manufactures fought bitterly on entire spectrum of Mobile Phone such as on Price Point to Superior User Experience. Smartphone powered by Android are available now at affordable price for low end 50-60 USD to high end 1300 USD.
Convergence of Financial & other Services on devices suitable for such activities also ramped up the user experience as the solution providers tested the limit of Mobile platform to provide channel agnostic experience.
Digitization, social media and ecommerce were other three drivers that contributed a lot towards User Interface, Experience and Data Security aspects of it.
iOS 14 has pushed the envelop – OS world is now binary
I would love to be convinced or proven wrong if someone tells me about a phone that he is using, and it runs on OS other than Android or iOS. My friend & a tech buff, Simoun Ung, CEO of Omni Pay Philippines is die-hard fan of Blackberry and has used almost all the variants they have released till date, is one of those rare CEOs who are still with Canadian Mobile Phone maker BB, who I believe, were late in aligning to new ground realities.
I myself, have been a long time user of iOS and feel comfortable using it for variety of reasons, one being the high end data security and safety features that somewhat add a premium to the brand. I still will not call it a snob value, perhaps a price to pay when you are heavy on Financial Transactions on your device
Ardent followers of Android often tell me the advantages of using non-iPhone phones mainly for ease of use, flexibility and wide variety of devices that you can try, unlike iPhone where at best you can have is the latest version. I have often been tempted to try Samsung and flashy jazzy Chinese phones that control even the domestic phone market in India.
Apple’s Control with User v/s Agile Ecosystem of Android?
Apple has been quite focused, if not outright stubborn, on data security, privacy and providing control to user on how the information about him or her be used. Apple maintains they do not share user data under any circumstances.
Their latest release iOS14, has been quite a game changer and shows Apple taking a different path altogether. Some of the access mechanisms have been tightened so much that it has sent them on collision path with Social Media giants like Facebook, which uses cross application information for commercial purpose. If you are logged-in on FB and Amazon with same credentials, or running a session on phone, you may find some of the products that you want to buy on Amazon appear in your FB timelines. User can control that proliferation now.
iOS 14 also shares with users the websites that are attempting to access the information of his/her activities as user surfs web using a browser.
Even the functions and features that access your microphone is also advised to the user with an orange small circle that appears on the top right corner of your phone. In addition, user can now decide which all application should have what kind of privileges. Even the photos can be given access selectively to an application that user wants while restricting others, if he does not wish to share. Applications allow in-app changes to privileges to help complete a task.
As a user of iOS, one thing that I have always found reassuring is that Apple devices do not need an Anti-Virus. Now that speaks a lot about the focus of iPhone maker.
iOS, on the other hand, is quite rigid too. Obsessed with using its own ecosystem, such as Apple Music, loading music from external sources is quite challenging and it links back to its music store to validate the availability of music in your geography. My purchased CDs, when uploaded in library, refuse to play, with reasons “Music not available in your region” or something similar.
It is also slow to port new applications. We still do not have a “Tooter” on apple store, now that’s less gossip.
Android, has lots of positives about it, foremost being the agility that it provides on its ecosystem. Applications are quick to port, each phone maker can personalize the UI and even UX to large extent, external memories are easily accessed and lets you play music, videos and other information and operating the phone is comparatively easier, making it more appealing, to a wider set of potential users.
Android, with its own world of Google Applications, also makes cross integration quite seamless. With large user group on its Gmail platform, Android users often use more applications of Google, which is now getting aggressive on Financial Services space as well with Google Pay already registering a healthy volume.
Android, is clearly focusing on ease of use, at low price point and providing hosts of services and solutions to users across devices of various manufacturers. If you are Android fan, you are spoiled for choice, with scores of Mobile Phone makers out to seduce you.
Talking of comparisons on other parameters such as better camera, ability to take stunning pictures in low light, waterproof, gorilla glass proving sturdiness, battery power to last beyond 24 hours & easily available and affordable accessories etc are also the factors that often go into deciding the device one buys and OS one uses. Only a very cautious user will start selecting a product based on OS and not the factors that I listed above, it is akin to changing a camp.
In most of the cases, my personal experience is, that users are quite loyal to the OS they use and not so much on the phone brand, unless you prefer iOS, then you have no choice on makes.
To summarize, if I were to categorize the iOS, Android & others in various buckets, it would be;
1. iOS - Own Ecosystem that has user on top of the value chain.
2. Android – Fast, Easy, Affordable, Collaborative, Accommodative & Ever Evolving
3. You guessed it, there is no 3rd
Is only the Mobile world Binary?
If you wondered why your mobile runs only on iOS or Android, please answer, “which OS your laptop is using?”
99%, your answer will be Microsoft Windows.
(Views presented here is of the author, in his personal capacity as a tech enthusiast and a mobile user. Well, who has a choice?)