Vodafone CEO calls for mobile OS consolidation

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

The wide variety of operating systems on mobile phones is hindering the growth
of cool mobile Internet applications, according to Arun Sarin, CEO of network
operator Vodafone.

The success of a mobile Internet application can be influenced by how easy
it is to develop for a particular software platform, and how attractive the
resulting application is to use.

"The first imperative for us is world-class user experience," Sarin
said in the opening keynote session of the Mobile
World Congress
in Barcelona on Tuesday.

"The easier the interface, the more you use it and the more you get onto
the Internet."

Mobile phone operating systems are key to that experience, he said, but there
are too many of them: as many as 30 or 40, Sarin estimated.

"We have to reduce that number. There's no way that developers of cool
applications can develop for that many operating systems. If we had three, four,
five, that would be better," he said.

"Note, I didn't say one!" he said, with a nod to the market for PC
operating systems. "We've seen that movie before."

One reason for the proliferation of mobile phone operating systems is that,
historically, handset suppliers offered their own proprietary code to make the
best use of their phones' limited processing and memory resources. Developing
applications for such closed systems is difficult.

Today's high-end phones, though, have as much computing power as low-end PCs,
spawning a new market for operating systems such as Symbian OS or Windows Mobile
that run on phones from multiple manufacturers.

That ought to reduce the number of software platforms in the market, but more
are still arriving, including several based on the open source operating system
Linux.

Vodafone distributes and supports phones with many different operating systems,
but not the one that for Sarin proved the importance of the operating system:
Apple's iPhone.

"Apple has raised the bar with the iPhone, and we all now know how important
user interfaces are," he said. "We as an industry will have to raise
our game to provide the kind of user interface that our customers are now becoming
accustomed to."

Apple changed the market with slick software and a closed design tied to its
own hardware, initially making it difficult for developers to add applications.
The company plans to open things up a little with the release of a software
development kit (SDK) later this month.

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