Experts Predict Mobile Operating System Consolidation

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Even while new mobile operating systems continue to hit the market, experts speaking during the CTIA conference in San Francisco are anticipating a consolidation of the software.

"There will be a sharp contraction in the number of platforms," said Christy Wyatt, vice president of software platforms and ecosystem for Motorola, speaking at a round-table event about open-source software in mobile on Wednesday. "We won't get to one, but maybe there will be one consistent version of Linux."

For now, the LiMo Foundation and Google are separately working on incompatible Linux-based operating systems. Symbian recently announced that it is in the process of open sourcing its operating system.

Some industry observers have speculated about the merging of various combinations of those open-source platforms, though spokespeople from the groups have not publicly acknowledged any discussions to that end.

Even if the open-source platforms merge into one, it will join many other mobile operating systems including Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Apple's software that runs the iPhone, as well as many other proprietary operating systems running mid- to low-end phones.

Which operating systems win might ultimately be decided by mobile operators, not end-users. Some operators, such as Vodafone in Europe, have said that they intend to only sell phones running two or three operating systems.

For now, however, AT&T at least is selling phones running on most every available operating system and letting end-users decide which they want, said Roger Smith, director of next generation services at AT&T.

The increasing number of mobile operating systems is putting a strain on the pool of application developers interested in building products for mobile devices, but some industry leaders aren't too concerned about that.

Application developers will tweak their applications to work on different devices if they think that it will help them address a bigger market, said Oren Levine, a product marketing manager in Nokia's S60 group.

Motorola's Wyatt agrees that the overall size of the mobile market makes it worth it for developers to port their applications across platforms. "If they port to just one handset, the volume in that one may be interesting enough," she said. As an example, she points to the iPhone, which has a relatively small portion of the market but a successful application market.

Many companies are building platforms designed to let developers write an application that can run across the various mobile-phone platforms. For example, Yahoo on Wednesday said it expanded its Blueprint development platform so that developers can build an application that will run on Java, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones.

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