The new OS war will be between operating systems that can work on all types of digital screens.
For decades, when people talked about OS wars, they were mostly referring to the Windows vs. Mac battle. These two operating systems have dominated the PC landscape with Windows owning about 90 percent of the market. This OS war has been great for the PC industry, because as Apple continues to innovate on its OS platform, it forces Microsoft to innovate as well, and in turn, consumers constantly receive new and more powerful OS platforms for their PCs.
Recently, Apple introduced some a new twist to the Mac platform with the creation of the Mac App Store. However, the reality is that while Apple can gain some new market share in the PC space, Windows will always be the dominant PC platform. There are too many vendors backing the Windows OS for any single company like Apple to gain much ground on the Windows monopoly.
Now there is a another OS war developing around smartphones, and if you think the PC OS wars were nasty, just wait for this OS war to heat up. We've already seen charged rhetoric from Apple CEO Steve Jobs over the iPhone, Andy Rubin at Google defending Android against the competition, and RIM's CEO Jim Balsillie ranting about Jobs and company during the iPhone antenna dilemma. All of these folks realize that the stakes are very high and that they need to do whatever is necessary to keep the market looking at them and pushing their platforms forward. To put these OS stakes into perspective, market researchers say that 1.2 billion cell phones will be sold worldwide this year. And while smartphones represent only 22 percent of the cell phone market for 2010, they will make up 60 percent of the market in the U.S. by 2012 and 65 percent of all cell phones sold worldwide will be smartphones by 2015. That means that by 2015 we could see as many as 750 million smartphones sold around the world, which is a massive market and will create amazing market opportunities.
The good news is that because the smartphone market is so huge, there clearly can be more than one major player in this game. And at the moment, it appears that the Apple iPhone and the many Android smartphones will mostly dominate the future smartphone market. But competitors, such as RIM, Palm, Microsoft, Nokia, and others, will also be vying for the hearts and minds of smartphone buyers. The OS battle to get apps written for all of these platforms is already in high gear.
However, when I think about the future OS wars, I look way past smartphones to what some call a "digital ecosystem" that will enter our lives in the future. It seems, to me, that while smartphones are clearly an important part of our digital lives, the Internet connected navigation system in our cars, or the Internet connected screen in our refrigerators, or the Internet connected touch screen mirror in our bathrooms will become just as important. In fact, I believe that we will have a heap of screens in our digital lives, and all of them will beg to be smart. That means that they will need a solid OS with a powerful and easy to use interface, along with the intelligence to handle all Internet-related content and app specific content.
If this is the case, any of the smartphone or PC vendors who have created an OS just for a smartphone have made a strategic mistake. For example, while Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS is now a solid contender in the smartphone war, it does not appear to be useable in things like tablets, navigation systems, or any other digital screens. In fact, Microsoft has four distinct operating systems: one for PCs, one for game consoles, one for smartphones, and one for embedded devices. If it wants to take part in the coming digital screen explosion, it may need another OS for a grand total of five operating systems.
By contrast, Google's Android OS was initially designed for smartphones, but is now being extended to the Google TV platform and will soon be on tablets. Android can also be used as an OS in things like set-top boxes and navigation systems, and it can power a whole host of screens. And, it has an SDK that will allow apps to be created for all of these devices as well.
Apple also has an OS that fits this multi-use description. Its iOS is also highly extensible and is already used in the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. In fact, Apple already has 125 million iOS devices on the market, giving it quite an edge on the competition. Given its cross device nature, iOS could eventually be used on dedicated navigation systems or whatever device Apple wants to create in the future. Apple iOS also has an SDK and an app ecosystem that could be used across any device it creates.