Mobile World Congress 2010: New Mobile Operating Systems From Microsoft, Samsung, Symbian, and Nokia/Intel

In the past two Mobile World Congress articles we discussed the unified move to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology in key markets like the Republic of Korea and the United States, as well as the consolidation of APIs and embedded mobile broadband for consumer devices. One would almost thing innovation was the victim of standadisation.

The push towards common transmission and programming software technologies, however, only goes so far in the world of mobile broadband. Choice, at least among phone operating systems, is not dead, as the universe of underlying software platforms on mobile devices expands and continues to fragment.

Not only did Windows Mobile 7 emerge from the event, but Samsung also is pushing bada, its own version of an open source platform. On top of that, Symbian turns 3 and Intel's Moblin is morphing into MeeGo, as it melds with Nokia's Maemo Linux-based mobile platform.

All of this means that streaming solutions have to be tweaked for delivery on multiple unicast mobile broadband networks, even if the networks themselves become homogenous, due to the uptick in differing approaches to mobile device operating systems.

In addition, while many of these operating systems are now set up with open source licensing, the method to the madness has to do with the handset lock discussed in yesterday's article: handset and mobile OS companies see the operating system as a loss leader into the sale of hardware and applications. Rightly so, as the growth of apps for mobile devices far exceeds the growth of applications at any time in desktop OS history: Apple's App Store had more than 1.5 billion downloads in its first year, followed by an announcement on January 5, 2010 that another 1.5 billion downloads had occurred over a subsequent six-month period.

Let's take a brief look at a few of these new or modified platforms.

Windows Mobile 7
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, showcased what the company is calling it both a "major step" and a "turning point" from previous Windows Mobile operating systems.

"In a crowded market filled with phones that look the same and do the same things, I challenged the team to deliver a different kind of mobile experience," said Ballmer, channeling his inner Steve Jobs, adding that this release is "turning point toward phones that truly reflect the speed of people’s lives and their need to connect to other people."

Streaming—both for music and video—is a key element of the new OS, which uses the concept of "hubs" and "tiles" to serve up various applications. Microsoft is adding the ability to play Xbox LIVE games—although details are scarce at this point—and to experience the Zune features for music and video playback. It appears, though, that some aspects, such as Zune Social, will still require a desktop or laptop to share media recommendations.

"It is a total break from what we were doing before," Nicolas Petit, who heads Microsoft France's mobile division, told another reporter at the unveiling press conference.

Samsung actually announced Bada, which means "ocean" in Korean, back in November 2009, but the Mobile World Congress event is the first place that Samsung showcased bada.

An open source mobile platform, which Samsung says symbolizes its commitment to a variety of open platforms in the mobile industry, Bada can either be Linux-based or based on a real-time operating systems. The latter is part of a trend to address hardware configurations that can handle real-time OSes, although the Linux open-source mobile platform trend is more dominant at the moment, leaving only Apple, Microsoft, and Research In Motion (RIM) with proprietary mobile operating systems.

Bada's device layer, accessible through a C++ framework that includes APIs, is where Samsung has focused its media management and delivery efforts. Developers can get specifications and help on a technical blog, but the best way to see what Bada is capable of is through the Wave handset that Samsung rolled out at MWC.

The Wave follows the trend of the Google Nexus One, with a 1Ghz proccessor and on-board graphics optimization. The device is also capable of 720p recording and playback (more on the latter at the end of this article).

The union of two Linux mobile platforms, Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo, spawned the MeeGo love child, which inherits the best of each platform, plus the marketing power of two industry giants. Moblin is the more familiar of the two, which we've written about before, and both had strong video and entertainment features that drove adoption.

The list of expected devices to adopt MeeGo reads like a Who's Who of mobile devices: Intel and Nokia expect adoption on "pocketable mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, mediaphones, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems."

Perhaps the most compelling part of the MeeGo merging is the ability to sell applications from both Nokia's and Intel's application stores, many of which are video-centric and allow streaming of entertainment and news content.

What has been known as the core mobile operating system for Nokia, the dominant handset and smartphone provider globally, has now been upgraded and open-sourced for non-Nokia mobile devices

Yes, that's right: As of February 4, 2010, the Symbian OS is now an open source project, albeit one with Nokia's sizable efforts behind it. The Symbian Foundation unveiled the Symbian^3 (S^3) platform, which is slated for "feature complete" by late March 2010.

Symbian will have the ability to address the faster networking speeds that LTE (4G) will provide and is also being optimized for 2D and 3D graphics, although it is uncertain whether this optimization is one that Flash 10.1 will take advantage of when it is released in mid-2010.

The biggest feature for me, perhaps because I've been harping on this very topic for the past two years in the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook, is the fact Symbian^3 now supports HDMI connectivity. It's been apparent for the past two years that mobile devices would have the capability to pass 720p and 1080p signals through the device to a larger screen, and the HDMI jack is the right form factor to carry both 1080p and multi-channel audio to the larger screen or home theater system. With the advent of OTA mobile digital television transmission chips in mobile handsets later this year, it's quite feasible that the mobile handset will act as a television receiver for 720p and 1080i/p signals.

Even the Samsung Wave is capable of playing back 720p video, with 5.1 surround audio. How is this possible for a device that only has a 3.3″ AMOLED screen with an 800×480 resolution? As we discussed with the Akamai iPhone HD issue last year, it's not the ability to play it on the screen, but the ability to send the signal through the device to a larger screen. The Wave foregoes the HDMI connector, opting instead for Samsung’s proprietary DNIe technology, which means a feature lock to the company's own LCD/LED flat panels. Hopefully this is just a blip on the trend toward HDMI or even Mini DisplayPort, an Apple enhancement capable of 2k display that was recently accepted by the DisplayPort trade group.

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