Mobile phones have fast become an integral part of our everyday life. Apart from being a status symbol it is now becoming so capable of general-purpose computing that it¿½s destined to become the next PC. We are also expecting a surge in mobile programming in the IT industry as more and more IT applications start to offer mobile counterparts. The mobile computing is readying to progress to the next level by focussing on greater variety in applications, highly improved usability, and speedier networking. Historically, the Smartphone operating systems (OS) have been proprietary in nature and open to outside developers in differing ways dependent on the OS owner. With the introduction of the Google driven Android the goals of the next generation mobile computing are underway in getting realised (Conti, 2008). We see that with the advent of Google Android there has been a renewed interest in the Open source software and that many companies are taking the lead and following suit. The paper mainly focuses on identifying the trends in the mobile computing industry. The first part of the paper discusses about what the actual trend is and why we need to focus on it. The discussion then traverses to the general trend that we have seen in the mobile computing industry. We then discuss the perceived reasons as to why the current trend is happening and conclude the paper with the importance of the trend from the industrial and end-user standpoint.
What¿½s the buzz about?
Mobile phones have a lot of operating systems to choose from ,such as Symbian OS, Microsoft¿½s Windows Mobile, Mobile Linux, iPhone OS (based on Mac OSX), and many other proprietary OSs. Supporting standards and publishing APIs would greatly aid in widespread, low-cost development of mobile applications. So far, none of these operating system have taken a concrete steps towards it. Then Google entered the space with its Android Platform an Open source software initiative, promising openness, affordability, and a high-end development framework. Google acquired the start-up company Android Inc. in 2005 to start the development of the Android Platform .In late 2007, although very much conceived under Google¿½s guidance, Android transpired as the first common project to emerge from a new industry body called the Open Handset Alliance. Some of the biggest names in the phone business have joined this group. The list includes handset manufacturers(Motorola, Samsung, HTC, LG),operators (NTT DoCoMo, T-Mobile, Telef¿½nica, Sprint Nextel, China Mobile, KDDI, Telecom Italia),chip suppliers (Intel, TI, Broadcom, Marvell, Qualcomm), and content and software providers (Google, eBay, PacketVideo, Nuance Communications and others)( Conti, 2008).
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Figure-1 gives a diagrammatic view of how the Android was conceived as an OSS.An Open-source software (OSS)¿½is¿½computer software¿½that is available in source code form for which the¿½source code¿½and certain other rights normally reserved for¿½copyright¿½holders are provided under a¿½software license¿½that permits users to study, change, and improve the software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_software) .The Android SDK was first issued as an ¿½early look¿½ release in November 2007. Android could be introduced as an OS that it is built on a Linux kernel. It provides the opportunity to the developers to write their own exciting third-party applications (Hashimi & Komatineni, 2009). In essence it was a new operating system (OS), associated middleware, user interface and a collection of applications. A free-to-use yet versatile OS that could help handset makers reduce time-to market for new devices. Android is also a fully open, customisable OS that could help cellular operators differentiate their service schemes while lowering the cost of new and innovative devices. Finally, Android may give mobile phone users an Internet experience on their handsets to rival that which they¿½ve come to expect from their PCs. (Conti, 2008).
Figure 1- Android timeline. (Hall & Anderson, 2009)
Some of the distinguishable factors of this platform are that it allows applications to interact with one another and components reusability and inter-usability. This reuse not only applies to services, but also to data and UserInterface (UI). As a result, the Android Platform has a number of architectural features that keep this openness a reality. Android has also attracted an early following because of its fully developed features to exploit the cloud-computing model offered by web resources and to enhance that experience with local data stores on the handset itself. Its support for a relational database on the handset also played a part in early adoption. (Hashimi & Komatineni, 2009)
Mobile development: The trends
In nascent days of mobile computing, the mid 1990s, a few companies attempted to build and market personal data assistants (PDAs). Even though PDAs are not considered mobile computers, they were in fact, the predecessors to today¿½s Smartphone .We can see that today most PDA manufacturing companies have become in unison with mobile manufacturers. The early models, like the Palm 1000, and Palm 5000 had very limited functionality and little variety. They typically had less than one megabyte of memory, a green screen and very simple applications like a contact database, calendar, note pad, to name a few. All had the ability to link to a computer via a serial port. With this link, contacts and calendars could be synchronized. In the early 1990s when cell phone manufacturers began including CPUs, memory, and LCD screens, phones were started to be seen as mobile computing device rather than phone in the pure sense. The first noticeable addition was a way to store and access contacts. To do that, manufacturers had to provide some method of writing applications for the small devices and an operating system to run on. Offering better, more complex applications on phones was a key differentiator for the cell phone market, and this spurred on the upgrade market in a big way. One key application above all others, spawned a new revolution, text messaging.
Not long ago
In the turn of the 21st century, Research In Motion (RIM) introduced the Blackberry which started as a simple two-way pager, but quickly became one of the most widespread of mobile
computing devices (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackBerry). As the world was coming in terms with the Blackberry, businesses were more concerned with staying in contact with an increasingly mobile workforce. The Blackberry¿½s scoring point was its ability to send and receive email which was responsible in solved some very important problems. The device became so widely popular and integral, that PC magazine ranked it the 14th most important gadget invented in the past 50 years (Tynan, 2005). The Blackberry stood out from other cell phone devices because of its keyboard. Typing an entire email using a cell phone¿½s standard 12 keys is very difficult for most people (2=ABC, 3=DEF, etc). The Blackberry on the other hand, provided a mini QWERTY keyboard. The market responded positively which impacted the Blackberry sales heavily. As of mid-2008 the company boasted over 17% of the worldwide smart- phone market (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphones). There is no doubt that the Blackberry helped bridge the gap between gadget-filled cell phones and a true mobile device. Around the same time the Blackberry was gaining popularity, Microsoft released its first operating system targeted at the mobile device market, Pocket PC 2000. This represented the first major move by a software company into the mobile space echoing the Microsoft¿½s early recognition of the fact that the Smartphone may one day rival the laptop as the preferred mobile computing device. The integration of many different hardware devices drove manufacturers to invest more into the cell phone¿½s operating system. Because manufacturers offer many different phones to several different providers, they all needed a common operating system. The hardware manufacturers Nokia, Ericsson, Panasonic, and Samsung agreed to collaborate on a single operating system to run their devices, as a result of which the Symbian Operating System was developed. Because of so much collaboration between hardware manufacturers, Symbian took a dominant hold on the Smartphone industry with a 65% global market share.
Now and Future
In August of 2005, the technology and gadget community was set abuzz about Google’s acquisition of a company called Android. The Android Company specialized in developing software for mobile devices and was rumoured to be building an operating system based on Linux. As of June 2008, Apple sold over 9 million iPhones. In comparison, T-mobile expected to sell about 600,000 G1phones by the end of 2008. Thus, the G1 should be in a good position to compete with its rivals in the very near future. (Hall & Anderson, 2009)
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Analysts at in-Stat are predicting compound annual growth rates of between 270% and 308% up to 2012 for Android, from a standing start, which would deliver volumes of 97 million to 164 million units, drawing level with predicted Symbian device shipments by the end of the period, though other analysts believe it will take the Google system longer to catch up with the installed base market channels and more mature developer platform of the Nokia backed offering called as Symbian foundation.(Gabriel, 2009)
Android phones will also feature advanced capabilities and encourage third-party applications, this is not a single phone offered by a particular company. Google, with a coalition of companies under the title of the Open Handset Alliance, is actually developing an entire mobile phone platform and operating system using embedded Linux. The phones themselves will come from a variety of manufacturers, including HTC and Motorola. The vision for the Android phone is to become a full-fledged computing and networking device in its own right, not just an adjunct to a desktop computer. This adds a higher level of challenge to Android application development, and having application developers settle for the lowest common denominator among possible phones is probably not the most effective means to reach Google’s grand goals .( Jones, 2009)
The trend of open source software for the mobile computing is not isolated to the Google Android. There are other open platforms which do not include mobile phone network interfaces are available. The Nokia Internet tablet computers based on Maemo are such devices. The Maemo platform provides lots of functionalities and shows great potential for many useful usage scenarios. Maemo is a software platform that is based on OSS projects such as Debian GNU/Linux and GNOME. Another potential major advance for OSS on mobile phones could come from Nokia. The company announced the creation of the Symbian Foundation and the release of its Symbian OS as open source software. This OS was designed for mobile devices and comes with libraries, user interface frameworks and reference implementations. (Lefebvre et al., 2008). Nokia¿½s announcement is seen as response to the Google OS and it hopes to consolidate on its position in the Smartphone segment. Some of the lesser known are the Ubuntu Mobile Edition of a GNU/Linux based software stack that could fulfil the requirements for new handhelds. This effort was launched by Canonical Inc. to support the development of an OSS distribution for mobile internet devices.
What is the reason for this trend?
The NPD Group, the US consumer market research company, the report says Google’s Android operating system has shaken up the mobile phone market, moving past Apple to take the number two position among Smartphone operating systems. According to the report, the Android operating system is now at second position with a share of 28 percent, just behind BlackBerry’s 36 percent. Apple’s share is 21 percent. This is an indication that the markets are very receptive to the open source software and this could be the perfect launch pad to build upon for the future. (http://in.news.yahoo.com/43/20100511/860/ttc-google-s-android-outsells-iphone-thr.html)
Open¿½source¿½provides companies with the tools and framework needed to co-develop software which is then shared using a royalty-free licence Handset makers have long developed proprietary¿½operating¿½systems despite the cost involved. That’s because maintaining control of the software was deemed a price worth paying, and handset makers could avoid paying large royalties to third parties. Now with¿½open¿½source¿½systems they could potentially save 10%-20% on the software bill of materials .By joining the¿½open¿½source¿½initiatives,¿½mobile¿½operators want to customise the user interface and shape the services the handsets run, something that until now they have been denied with proprietary¿½operating¿½systems (Rubenstein, 2009)
Challenges for the future
Android has received an enthusiastic welcoming among manufacturers and developers, however, some handset manufacturers are taking longer than expected to integrate Android. Hence, its market share is not growing as rapidly as anticipated but it is still very positive (Gavalas & Economou, 2010). In comparison the other open source software from Nokia under the name Symbian foundation has 225 million handsets and a 10 year market experience. So, even though completely open-source Symbian code is likely to be available only in early 2010 because of its large code base the foundation believes it has a head start because of its widespread adoption (Smith, 2008). Android seems to expand its developers¿½ community to a large number in a short span of time. Being an open source platform, a new one at that , there are a number of complaints from developers concerning missing elements in the Android SDK, frequently changing code parameters, and poor documentation regarding the changes and API functionality. While these issues are likely to be fixed in the short term by Google, a larger issues are expected to rise in handset compatibility .Developing for other Smartphone cannot be compared with Android developers as they are handicapped by not knowing on what the features of the phone will be for which they are developing applications. The handsets, for example, might have a touch screen like or have a traditional keypad (Jones, 2008).The future of Android is bound to depend largely depend on providing technologies for simplifying the design of multimedia-rich and most importantly its success in confronting the porting (fragmentation) problems; the latter cannot be estimated now as Android still does not have a big base. Being a relatively young software platform, Android is struggling with a small number of available applications; therefore they have spent funds to attract developers and prepare a good number of applications before the first Android phone release (Gavalas & Economou, 2010).One more key challenge would be the way the security issues are handled since there are lot of third-party applications and customisation of application will be easy.
Implications of the trend
The software industry is experiencing changes as open source software (OSS) is gradually entering the domain. Several companies, most of which had little to no experience with open source development, have at least in some way embraced open source as a path to new innovation and ideas. This would enable many small and medium scale companies to explore new areas in which they do not have expertise. Earlier this was not possible due to the overhead costs that was associated with the software .The emphasis is clearly on the need for operating systems that are open sourced and that provide an easier way to develop applications. Since technology is constantly changing new companies that emerge adapt and resistance to adaptation fades away. If open source continues on its current path and captures a permanent stronghold within the programming community, it may only be a matter of time before we see the trend in other domains as well. This also suggests that the traditional corporate model is trying to move away from traditional ideas about property protection or propitiatory, and indeed redefines property itself. With OSS, the global level of collaboration adds significant value to the software development chain. Individual programmers and organizations work at innovating and solving issues with a ¿½let’s-not-reinvent-the-wheel¿½ approach. Companies using OSS see several benefits in the form of flexibility, independence, ability to fix, to enhance and to tweak the software that they need. For all of those involved, OSS is a key to success (Lefebvre et al., 2008). In some sense, an open source society would be perhaps the most entrepreneurial since it can encourage new ideas without any overhead. Also when we extrapolate there likely will be only two or three mobile operating systems in the future. ¿½The single most expensive part of the phone today is hardware adaptation,¿½ Forsyth said, referring to adapting the software to run on particular handsets. He said the number of operating systems will shrink because the handset OEMs cannot justify working with more than a few. In his words ¿½We think we have a credible shot at being one¿½ of the operating systems left standing. (Smith, 2008)
Recent times have seen an explosion of Smartphone operating systems and there may even be more on the way with different flavours of mobile Linux or plainly OSS. The paving of the way has already been done by Google and gained momentum with Nokia¿½s move. The practioners tend to agree with idea there will be a consolidation in the years ahead. The unification of fragmented OS barring a few niche ones (like RIM, Apple) will propel the mobile computing world into unknown realms as the boundaries of creativity will be breached by the openness. This OSS in the long run will also lead to reduction of handset costs, time-to market of products and more importantly upgrading of the existing systems. The lesser number of OS also means that there will be no inter-operability issues. This trend is a utopian dream when attained would change the way the mobile communication is done.
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