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Cloud Computing: Article

Mobile OS Fragmentation: Better or Worse?

Moving beyond Web-centric applications

In the midst of iPhone mania, Android frenzy, and Symbian going open source, there's been talk about growing fractures and compatibility chaos in the mobile landscape. This growing storm affects not only software developers, but hardware makers as well. With over 30 operating systems for mobile and embedded devices, developers must carefully choose which devices they want to target and which devices, along with their customer base, they must leave behind. Just listing the leading smartphone software stacks only emphasizes the problem: Microsoft's Windows Mobile, Nokia's Symbian (JME and C++), RIM's BlackBerry, LiMo's Embedded Linux, Open Handset Alliance/Google's Android, QUALCOMM's BREW, Apple's iPhone, Sprint's Titan, Sun's JavaFX, Neo's OpenMoko, and an untold number of legacy proprietary operating systems.

It's a growing nightmare to build applications that run on these different operating systems and maintain some degree of compatibility and interoperability. The problem intensifies when you consider applications should ideally span not only phones, but MIDs, UMPCs, cars (telematics), and other embedded and wearable computing devices. Pervasive is the new mobile. A single platform that spans all "Screens of Life" would truly be something to behold.

This cross-platform headache holds true not only for user interface development, but also for writing and accessing services and intelligent information on edge devices. These services, accessible on any node, will open the door to advanced real-time, location-aware applications that are currently envisioned, but not built.

Standards and performance are also key issues. Once you get to the mobile and embedded arena there are no multi-language standards for database access, rules integration, or location determination. Organizations would love to see these options consolidated, but the number of devices and platforms is growing, not shrinking. And employees and customers don't want to be told which smartphone and other devices they can and can't use. They increasingly want to access to applications and information regardless of which screen (phone, car, MID, PC, TV) they're using at the moment.

Friendly Partners or Strange Bedfellows?
The intense competition that's occurring among handset makers, mobile OS vendors, application companies, and network providers make the mobile environment even more interesting. Until recently these groups competed within their own industry, but the lines are beginning to blur.

The handset manufacturers must decide which mobile OSes to ship on their phones. They also have to find ways to cut prices and differentiate their devices from the myriad of outstanding choices in the market today that are growing daily. Furthermore, most manufacturers have ancillary hardware lines, such as set-top boxes and MID devices, that they'd like to manage easily and unify via pervasive applications.

More Stories By Bob DeAnna

Bob DeAnna joined Recursion Software in January 2006 and is responsible for directing product strategy and, most notably, leading the architecture and positioning of Voyager, the company’s intelligent pervasive distributed computing platform. Through his guidance the product has been enhanced to include native support for .NET, CF, Android, RETE-based rules engines, embedded databases, and the ability to run on nearly 20 embedded and mobile device platforms. Bob brings more than 24 years of experience in software architecture, development and mentoring. His expertise is in distributed application frameworks such as JEE, CORBA, .NET and ATMI. Bob holds a Bs in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University and a continuing education degree in C/C++ and Unix Programming from New York University.

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