Over the past ten years, I have programmed software for a number of platforms using a number of different technologies. During this time, I have began to recognize some fascinating trends in software development. Namely, everything is moving towards the web. In this paper, we will look at the different mobile and desktop computers that consumers use. Then, we will explore how they all are converging on the web as a common platform. Finally, we will look at what this means for businesses, IT managers, and consumers.
Overview of Mobile Devices
There are a number of types of mobile devices, but for our purposes, we will be specifically analyzing mobile phones. We will be essentially ignoring tablet computers because, by and large, tablet devices either run the same operating systems as mobile phones or the same operating systems as desktop computers, so we will already be covering their platforms either directly or indirectly.
Distribution of Platforms
Right now, there are a number of operating systems running on mobile phones, though, according to late-2010 data from Gartner, a technology research and advisory company, there are four key players: Symbian, Android, Blackberry (RIM), and iOS (Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users Reached 1.6 Billion Units in 2010; Smartphone Sales Grew 72 Percent in 2010, 2011). You can see their complete data table below. Keep in mind that there are other mobile platforms in use, but with their market share so low, they are not worth exploring.
|2010 Market Share (%)
|2009 Market Share (%)
|Research In Motion
Source: (Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users Reached 1.6 Billion Units in 2010; Smartphone Sales Grew 72 Percent in 2010, 2011).
Symbian devices currently account for close to 38% of the market (Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users Reached 1.6 Billion Units in 2010; Smartphone Sales Grew 72 Percent in 2010, 2011). Right now, all versions of Symbian include a web browser that is based on the Webkit engine (Symbian Web Browser versions and device support, 2010). Webkit is an open-source framework for processing web pages that is standards-compliant and in use by Safari, Chrome, and a number of other platforms, both for mobile devices and desktop computers (Welcome to the website for the WebKit Open Source Project!, 2011). Also, the newest versions come packaged with a version of Flash (Symbian Web Browser versions and device support, 2010).
Android is an operating system developed by Google and sponsored by the Open Handset Alliance, an organization representing over eighty different mobile companies working together to streamline mobile computing (What would it take to build a better mobile phone?, 2011). It is probably rising in popularity faster than any other platform and, as a developer, I expect it to overtake Symbian in the next year or two. Android currently comes packaged with a browser that, like Symbian, is based on the webkit browser (What is Android?, 2011). Additionally, it has Adobe Flash available through the Android Market (Flash Player 10.2, 2011).
Blackberry is a product of the company Research in Motion. It currently holds a large market share, 16%, though it is losing ground from 19% in 2009 (Gartner Says Worldwide Mobile Device Sales to End Users Reached 1.6 Billion Units in 2010; Smartphone Sales Grew 72 Percent in 2010, 2011). It ships with a webkit-based browser, just like all of the other mobile platforms we have looked at (Developing The NEW BlackBerry Browser, 2010).
The only two other notable platforms that we have not yet covered are Windows Mobile and Palm OS. For the purposes of our discussions, all you need know is that they both represent a relatively small market share and their newest versions come equipped with a relatively full-featured browser (Palm WebOS 1.4 vs. Windows Mobile 7, 2010).
Overview of Computers
When we talk about computers, we are talking fundamentally about devices that are typically larger than phones and that do not run phone operating systems. Below is a chart showing the distribution of desktop operating systems. Keep in mind that this data is collected based upon how many people visit their website from one operating system or another, so statistics vary widely in this area. Wikipedia cites eleven different sources which all produce different statistics, but the overall distribution tends to be relatively similar (Usage share of operating systems, 2011). For our purposes, we will look at Windows and Apple because they are the only two operating systems that have a large enough market share to be worth mentioning.
Source: (Operating Systems Market Share, 2010).
Microsoft has been producing Windows since the year 1984 (The Unusual History of Microsoft Windows). It began as an extension of MS-DOS, Microsoft’s previous console operating system, and sought to add on a graphical user interface. Today, around 87% of computers with access to the internet use some form of the Microsoft Windows operating system (Operating Systems Market Share, 2010). Windows 7, their most recent rendition, ships with Internet Explorer version 8, a powerful and near standards-compliant browser (Windows 7 Features – Internet Explorer). Many new POS terminals and devices now include an installation of Windows 7 Embedded Standard, which is really just Windows 7. This means that many POS terminals likely have a web browser (Windows Embedded Standard 7).
Apple Mac OS
Apple began producing a graphical version of Mac OS in 1983 (The Graphical Age at Apple, 2004), just a little before Windows 1.0 was released. As you can see from the statistics, Microsoft Windows has been wildly more successful than Apple Mac OS, though Mac is making a steady comeback (Operating Systems Market Share, 2010). The most recent version of their operating system, Mac OSX version 10.x, includes an extremely powerful, webkit-based browser called Safari (Safari).
The Common Platform
If you have been reading this paper start to finish, by now you will have noticed a common theme between all of these platforms: they all ship with standards-compliant web browsers. In my personal opinion, this sort of convergence will mean big changes for businesses, IT managers and their customers. In this section, we will cite what industry experts are expecting in terms of these phenomena.
Change for Businesses
Dan Matthews, Chief Technology Officer of IFS, an Enterprise Resource Planning firm founded in 1983, believes that technology can help businesses to go green, though this presents a major challenge for businesses (Environment aware: How business can be green, 2011). As devices merge, I expect that we will see more and more mobile devices being used as point-of-sale systems, such as the square for iOS. This particular device allows you to turn a iPad, iPod, or iPhone into a credit card scanner (Square’s On-the-Go iPhone Credit Card Scanner Will Cost $1, 2010).
I think this is just one example of this kind of innovation, but as time goes on, we may see more and more of these sorts of accessories available. For instance, your point-of-sale application could be web-based and your credit card scanner could just be a simple keyboard. Then, you just get a different scanner for the different platforms that your business software runs on, but the underlying software never changes. I have personally programmed a loyalty card and gift card that works this way and is in use by close to twenty businesses, One Loyalty Network (Login Page).
Change for IT Managers
According to Donald Ferguson, Chief Technology Officer of software firm CA, the biggest problem today is the complexity of IT. He says that IT departments spend the majority of their funds supporting existing platforms. Because of all of the different platforms they have to maintain, this makes innovation very difficult (The mantra of CA Technologies’ Donald Ferguson: Simplify, 2010). Perhaps, with only one or two web applications to maintain in the cloud, businesses will be able to focus more on innovation and less on maintaining all of their different platforms.
Change for Consumers
Stephen Herrod, CTO and senior vice president of VMWare, said in a recent interview, “What I’m really excited about is how we let individuals choose the best device for what they want to do, how do we let them have the freedom to bring that productivity-enhancing device to work” (VMware CTO on giving staff choice of their own devices, 2011). Here, I believe Stephen is beginning to discover that we will see desktop and mobile technologies begin to merge. He does also point out that, as these sorts of devices become more standardized, a major concern for the consumer is going to be how to keep their work-data secure and separate from their private data” (VMware CTO on giving staff choice of their own devices, 2011). As consumers, we should keep this in mind as we look at our next IT purchase.
Because both mobile and desktop computers include web browsers, both platforms are converging on the web as a common platform for application development. This could mean big changes for the IT industry. Businesses, IT managers and consumers can expect to see more and more applications universally available through a web browser. For those entering the IT industry, learning basic web authoring skills could prove invaluable in the coming years, regardless of whether you personally work as a programmer, an artist or a manager. If you want to be successful in your career in IT, it is important that you stay on top of the trends. So, get on out there and start a blog, build a website, and otherwise seize the day! Your career will thank you.
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