Manufacturing IT: Mobile phone software makers battle for marketshare

The Blackberry has a hold on corporate e-mail phones in North America today, but Google's Android, iPhone and others may become the enterprise integration instruments of choice.


Blackberry Tour smartphone

Research in Motion's BlackBerrys are ubiquitous as for corporate e-mail phones in North America, but RIM has stumbled in expanding to the consumer market and in introducing touch screens.


With Blackberry smart phones increasingly providing manufacturing information—such as real-time enterprise resource planning data or the ability to diagnose performance parameters via a PLC— these and other smart phones are landing on the radar of manufacturing IT professionals. More and more, it's the software that runs smart phones that makes the difference, and a growing number of operating systems are jostling for attention.

According to an article by Peter Svensson of the Associated Press, the battle will be on display as wireless carriers and phone makers gather next week in Barcelona, Spain, for the industry's largest trade show, Mobile World Congress. The CEO of Google Inc., suddenly a strong contender in phone software, will address the show. Also hoping to make a splash is Microsoft Corp., which is struggling to revitalize its software.

Analysts don't expect smart phones to settle on one kind of operating software, like the PC industry largely has with Microsoft's Windows. But analysts do expect the smart phone field to be winnowed down to two to four winners over the next few years. Here's a summary of the current contenders, in order of global consumer marketshare:

Symbian. Nokia Corp.'s use of Symbian software has taken it to the top, but its perch is precarious. It's down from 56 percent worldwide share in 2008 to 44 percent in 2009, according to research firm In-Stat. To power more-capable high-end phones, Nokia is now trying a version of the Linux operating system called Maemo.

iPhone. Apple's phone continues to roil the industry, and its sales more than quadrupled last year. Its features are a model for competitors, and it has by far the most support from application developers, despite complaints about the company's opaque and slow approval process. Apple won't be at the Barcelona show, however, because it prefers to put on its own events.

BlackBerry. Research in Motion Ltd. of Canada uses its own software for its BlackBerrys and doesn't license it to others. Though sales are still growing strongly, they could not keep up with Apple's growth last year, and the iPhone's market share at 19.8 percent edged past the BlackBerry's 19.2 percent, according to In-Stat. RIM has a nearly impenetrable hold on the market for corporate e-mail phones in North America, so analysts expect it to stay around. However, it has stumbled in trying to expand to the consumer market and in introducing touch screens.

Windows Mobile. Once a pioneer in smart phones, Microsoft is struggling to keep up. Manufacturers like Motorola Corp. and HTC Corp. are shifting away from Windows Mobile toward Google's Android. Last year, fewer Windows Mobile phones were sold than the year before, even in a market that grew 35 percent. Microsoft is expected to show off a new version of its mobile software Monday in Barcelona. Analysts see that as a do-or-die attempt to stay relevant in the business.

Android. Google's software has been on a tear, racking up a lot of support from manufacturers, and favorable reviews. There was just one Android phone out in 2008. At the end of 2009, there were more than a dozen, from Motorola, HTC and Samsung and others. Android is free for manufacturers as part of Google's effort to stimulate use of its Web services on cell phones. It's attracting a lot of attention from application developers, but the offerings still don't match those on the iPhone, either in quantity or quality. Some analysts believe Android will, much like Symbian, mainly be used in mid-to-low tier smart phones, leaving the high end of the market to the iPhone, and perhaps Nokia's Maemo.

Palm Inc. more or less created the smart phone then limped along for years with aging software that had its roots in the Palm Pilots of the mid-'90s. Last year, it made a clean break, introducing the new webOS, running on two phones, the Pre and Pixi. It's the only phone software that does a good job of running several applications at once and letting the user switch between them. It's gotten very favorable reviews, but sales have been less than stellar. In the U.S., the phones were exclusive to Sprint Nextel Corp. until January, when Verizon Wireless added two upgraded models. AT&T Inc. has said it will add webOS phones later this year.

LiMo. Short for Linux Mobile, LiMo is a consortium that gives away its software. Its uptake has been minimal, and Android and the free version of Symbian seem to have stolen a lot of LiMo's thunder.

- Edited by Renee Robbins, senior editor
Control Engineering News Desk

Get more manufacturing IT news from Control Engineering , including information technology solutions for enterprise planning and management of supply chain strategies and manufacturing operations.

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