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2008: A Fractured World for Developers

Number one cellphone provider Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has this week been criticizing Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s entry into the mobile operating system market while reserving faint praise for OS rival, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL).

The vendor's comments reflect the newly increased range of choices in the mobile sector. Gone are the days when three or four operating systems duked it out for dominance of the cellphone market. Now operators and developers can choose from Nokia, Symbian Ltd. , Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Palm Inc. , Linux, and soon Google's Android.

This, together with the opening up of U.S. cellular networks, could potentially make 2008 one of the most interesting years yet for mobile application and content developers. "If you thought 2007 was a fractured market for mobile operating systems, wait for early 2008," comments Rob Dalgety, marketing director of mobile device and services management company Mformation Technologies Inc.

It is going to make it more challenging to deliver content and services across an ecosystem of different phones. It is not even that easy to abstract some of the basic code work so that it runs with more devices because, as Dalgety points out, many of the features are so tied-in with the phone hardware itself.

What does all this mean? I think we'll see a massive drive from all the major OS players to recruit developers in 2008. The firms that make it easier to develop on their code base could even grab market share.

Apple and Google are both tiny ticks in the mobile operating system market, compared to Symbian. You will notice, however, that both started to push their developer strategy right out of the gate (even if Apple took its time with a software development kit). The reason for this is simple: Cool applications help to make these smartphones more appealing to users. Apple and Google are unlikely to become huge players in the mobile OS market straight off the bat. They have, however, shaken up the market mightily, relative to the size of their shares, which in Google's case is actually zero percent at the present time.

This makes for a confusing 2008 for developers, with no PC-like standard platform on the horizon next year (or any time soon). As mFormation's Dalgety notes, however, the cellphone market is so huge that even picking a niche OS player can provide a developer with a large potential market. 289 million cellphones were sold in the third quarter of 2007, according to Gartner Inc. That is more than all the 228.6 million PCs that were shipped globally in 2006, according to IDC .

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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