Symbian to lead smart-phone OS market through 2009

Despite inroads by Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS, which has demonstrated success with Motorola among other handset vendors recently, ABI Research believes that Symbian will continue to lead the market for cell phone standardized operating systems.

In a market that is still driven by proprietary OS, on the order of 98% this year, Symbian, Microsoft and Linux are fighting over a small portion of the total handset market. But 2% of handsets shipped – essentially all handsets defined as “Smartphones” — still amount to about 10 million handsets a year. And ABI Research predicts that Smartphones and connected PDAs will represent nearly a quarter of all handsets shipped by 2009.

Though many cellular carriers would like to control the OS in handsets, handset manufacturers still largely govern the market for handset operating systems. In the longer term, the problem with both carrier optimized OSs and proprietary OSs is less functionality. Users will ultimately drive demand for Smartphones because of better functionality for such things as larger screen size, improved menu navigation and a broad platform on which you can more easily add applications to enhance the user experiences. These capabilities are all limited under carrier-specific or proprietary OSs.

Among the critical success factors for Symbian to date has been the reluctance of carriers and handset vendors alike to utilize Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for fear that Microsoft would come to dominate the cell phone OS as it did the PC OS, driving differentiation largely to the OS and away from handset hardware. But with Nokia, the market leader in handsets seeking to gain controlling interest in Symbian, will handset vendors not begin to see Symbian as a threat? Given the relationship between Nokia and Symbian, it is no surprise that Motorola, Nokia’s largest competitor, has chosen to pull out of Symbian as a shareholder. Will designing in a particular standardized OS prove to be just a case of choosing which devil to dance with?


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