The fundamental mobile OS question

Samsung now has two major operating systems for the smartphone market: Android and its own bada. (We can ignore Windows for now.) Very cleverly, it is stealing the spotlights with its Android devices, while steadily building bada in the background, creating a developer ecosystem and upgrading the OS until it can somewhat compete with iOS and Android.

The reason for this dual strategy is that Samsung does not want to be beholden to Google for its OS. A strong bada will allow Samsung to discontinue Android in the future, and stake everything on its own OS where it owns the entire stack, from hardware to app store. It’s not certain that Samsung will in fact do this, but it wants to keep its options open.

Suppose for a moment that Samsung does make this move, say somewhere in 2012. At that point in time we will confront the fundamental mobile OS question.

A happy Samsung/Android consumer walks into a phone store, and is told that yes, he can get a new Samsung, but no, that Samsung won’t run Android. What will this consumer do?

  1. Stick with Android and forget about Samsung, because he can’t port his apps to bada.
  2. Stick with Samsung and switch to bada — likely because he doesn’t care about apps too much.

I would go for my apps first, and forget about Samsung. You would likely do the same. But neither of us is an average consumer.

What will the average consumer do? If he sticks with Android, the OS vendors, mostly new players and mostly US-based, will have won the smartphone battle. If he moves to bada, the traditional mobile powers will continue to rule the roost.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does. But if you want to understand the mobile platform wars, ponder this question.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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