There are two kinds of OS providers – device independent and device specific, in the first camp we have Nokia (with Symbian), Microsoft (with Windows Mobile) and Google (with Android), while in the second sit companies such as Apple and RIM (and to a certain extend Palm).

Microsoft has long enjoyed a strong presence in the Smartphone market because of its close ties with OEM’s, enabling thousands of devices to run the same (or similar) software, Symbian is similar – although it existed predominantly on a plethora of Nokia devices. Now we have Google trying to emulate Microsoft with its courting of manufacturers to use their open source Android OS – tut tut – that’s not very googlesque…

The second camp – Apple-et-al, have forced consumers to accept a hardware platform which is controlled by the OS manufacturer – and then molded the OS around the device. The difference in strategy is clear, and it’s the reason Apple will win out.

The simple reasoning is the combination of form and function as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach – Apple has developed an incredible device, and molded its usability with the hardware it runs on – and has done this with every portable device they’ve ever created – re-inventing the user interaction mechanisms to fit the hardware and vice versa – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Microsoft and Google are taking the swarm approach – if they sign up enough OEM’s their products can win-out by sheer force of numbers – not necessarily in quality or user-demand, they simply fill as many gaps in the market with a scalable OS as possible to surround & conquer.

Unfortunately, what has been forgotten is that marketing is all about giving consumers what they want, and if they don’t want it, tell them that they do and show them why.

An OEM manufacturing their device will concentrate on specs, hardware and pricing, the OS becomes a secondary consideration – although important, many won’t spend the money on developing something in-house, so customizing something off-the-shelf such as Windows or Android seems like an ideal solution. Unfortunately, the OEM cannot modify it enough to produce anything as compelling as Apple’s products – which is why they will continue to dominate the market in terms of branding and sales growth.

Palm is a prime contender for being the first manufacturer to ‘get-it’, with their ex-Apple appointment, they’ve invented a lightweight OS, concentrated on creating a development platform that is easy to get into and built a device that is suited to the OS and vice versa – they’ve taken it a step further by making their platform run JavaScript – unleashing a potential army of developers to the device if it gains traction.

But Palm is, alas, irrelevant – the only company that is in any position to threaten Apple’s dominance is Nokia – by sheer market share and longevity – they have been producing phones for longer than anyone, and have penetrated every level of the market from low-cost to premium mobile devices. If any company has the position and user-base to produce an Apple-beater, it will have to be Nokia.

And given what’s been going on with Nokia recently, they’re gearing up for something:

  1. Symbian is Open-Sourced – The Symbian Foundation is formed
  2. Nokia launches the Nokia Music store
  3. Nokia launches the ‘comes-with-music’ device, a phone that offers free downloads for a one-off fee
  4. The increasing delay in a multi-touch Nokia device – all very hush hush, but this looks spromising
  5. The Nokia Email Service is launched – Blackberry style ‘push’ for any Symbian phone
  6. Nokia Ovi – cloud personal media management – is launched

You know what that is? It’s the sounds of a company building a war machine and scaling up its strategic assets ready for a strike – although Microsoft is scaling up in a similar way – they’re requirement of OEM cooperation doesn’t put them in a flexible situation to act in the way Nokia is.

The conclusion – Form & function are foremost in developing any piece of consumer hardware and although Palm may be good at emulating the recipe, Nokia is the only company with the cojones to actually take the fight to Apple. Microsoft is too busy recovering from Vista to be truly competitive in this sector – their reliance on OEM’s breaks the form-function rule and Google is like a desperate housewife clamoring for anything that could promise a new revenue stream.