The Consumer Electronics OS War

There’s a major battle for OS domination in the consumer electronic space that may make the ones occurring on PCs and smartphones small by comparison. A good read.

The PC operating system wars have been raging for nearly 30 years. Ever since IBM chose Microsoft’s DOS for its PCs, other OSes have attempted to nudge their way into the market. Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign is a classic example of two operating systems vying for the hearts and minds of PC users. Of course, Windows continues to dominate the landscape, though Apple is slowly starting to convert users. While Apple will never dominate the PC market, the company has emerged as a serious contender in the battle for OS supremacy. The open source crowd, on the other hand, is pushing for Linux to become a mainstream OS.

There’s a similar battle occurring in the smartphone space. Nokia, BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, Microsoft, and Palm are just a few of the 12 or so mobile operating systems battling to become market leaders. This battle is even more intense than the one occurring in the PC space. PCs sales are only around 330 million units a year, versus the more than one billion cell phones and smartphones sold annually. With these type of numbers, more is at stake for the makers of mobile operating systems.

Read more after the break.

There is yet another OS battle brewing that could make the PC and smartphone OS wars seem small by comparison. The goal of these operating systems is to deliver a consumer electronics client for use on hardware, tied to what is loosely called a Web OS. Doing so would deliver a special operating system and user interface that works with apps or a Web browser that act much like PC OSes do today. It would tie users directly to apps built around this operating system, but this time the apps will most likely be cloud-based.

The CE device market is quite large. It includes TVs, Blu-ray players, set top boxes, audio systems, GPS devices, and a whole host of other products that may become targets for smarter operating systems. An OS for a TV could offer apps and give users more interactivity with television content. A more powerful OS for a car navigation system could offer better location-based services. A powerful OS—especially one that connects to the cloud—could make any CE device more useful to users in dozens of ways.

The PC and smartphone OS platforms are relatively well defined, at present. The market for CE OSes, on the other hand, is in its infancy. If one company can become the Microsoft of CE operating systems, it’s Google. At the moment, the company has the grandest vision for a CE OS that is tied to the cloud. Interestingly, Android is already finding its way onto non-phone devices, but it appears that Google’s Chrome is the OS Google really sees tying CE devices to the cloud. Indeed, Chrome is being shopped to CE vendors around the world, with the primary goal of giving these companies the ability to provide more intelligently connected products in the future.

Google, naturally, is tying Chrome to its own cloud services. In a sense, the company is taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, creating a software and service environment especially for the CE market. This is a very important move for Google, and at the moment, vendors are looking very closely at backing Google’s OS in their consumer products.
Apple is also creating a complete set of products that can run its OS X. That operating system is on Macs, the iPhone and iPad, and is at the heart of the Apple TV. The company wants to be a major provider of an OS for consumer electronics devices—only, in Apple’s case, all of the devices that use the OS will have the company’s logo on them.

The third big consumer OS will be coming from Palm. In fact, I think this is at the heart of why HP bought the company. Until the Palm acquisition, HP was stuck with either backing a Google or Microsoft OS. To back these operating systems, HP would have had to sell its soul to one of the two companies. Ultimately, HP wanted to control its own destiny, and given its strong cash position, it decided that buying webOS would allow it to develop its own CE OS that could be used in smartphones, tablets, and other HP-branded products. This gives HP more control over an HP ecosystem of hardware, software, and services. But as with Apple, I don’t expect HP to license its OS out to other companies.

Then there is Microsoft. The company has had a consumer OS for decades called Windows CE and Embedded CE. But if Microsoft really wants to compete with Google, Apple, and HP, it is going to have to build a much richer UI and touch interface on top of Windows CE. Some have suggested that Windows Phone 7 could scale up and be used on CE devices, but that is highly unlikely. The OS is designed for smartphones. I expect Microsoft to do something with Windows CE, but it better move fast, given the increased competition.

There are also various versions of Linux battling for the CE space. In fact, my TiVo uses Linux to control its features. But Linux CE OSes don’t have a standard UI. Any interface has to be customized by the vendors to work properly. There will be some devices that will continue to use a Linux kernel to deliver them some intelligence, but the real push will be the adoption of one of the major CE operating systems discussed above.

The success of these operating systems will be in how they’re tied to apps and the cloud. There will be apps built for each platform that deliver all manner of utility and functionality, but in most cases, they are just the front ends of cloud-based services.

The CE space is where the next major OS battle will take place. The stakes are enormous. In the not-too-distant future, all of our CE products will be smarter and more connected to the cloud. And one of these operating systems will mostly likely power them.

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By | 2010-05-16T21:30:50+00:00 May 16th, 2010|Android Related|0 Comments

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