A couple of years ago there were lots of hand-wringing comments about how the proliferation of handset OS's was harming the chances of any consistency in mobile applications development and uptake of data services. Operators like Vodafone made pronouncements of how they intended to rationalise their software platform base.
At the time, I was skeptical that there would be any easy way to meaningfully reduce the number of smartphone OS's as well as proprietary featurephone platforms. And in fact, if anything the number has risen, with the continued growth of RIM, the emergence of Apple's OS, Google/Android on the horizon and a continued plethora of other Linux platforms vying for attention. Meanwhile, none of the major handset vendors has committed to phasing out their proprietary platforms like Nokia S40 or the various Moto / Samsung / LG / S-E equivalents.
On the merchant-featurephone software stack there have been a few changes to be fair, with Qualcomm's BREW/UIone appearing on some more devices, but with TTPCom's Ajar being absorbed into Motorola's software maelstrom. Others like OpenWave and Obigo and Intrinsyc are still around too.
There is no obvious emerging contender to sweep away all others, especially at a global level. I can't see Nokia pushing S60 much further down into S40's domain. I can't see Apple or Google making a huge mark outside North America. I can't see RIM or Microsoft abandoning the enterprise sector. UIQ and a couple of the Linux players are not the strongest, but if they disappear I'm sure there will be plenty of newcomers to take their place - isn't it about time we saw a reincarnated Java/SavaJe-type player, for instance?
Meanwhile, all the real action seems to be migrating to the presentation layer - Webkit browser, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and so forth. There seems to be at least a vague semblance of homogeneity emerging there, at least on high-end devices. Sure, even at that level there won't be "one platform to rule them all", but some variation of Web+Widgets+XML+various extensions is perhaps not as tricky as the current app-porting challenges.
There are some interesting side-effects of all this - even propagating through to the network side of the industry, despite the fact it likes to think itself divorced from developments with mere handset software.
In particular, the industry seems to be moving even further away from fully IMS-capable handsets. Sure, in some ways the IMS client framework is starting to get a little more realistic, but with the shift in value (and certainly the shift in innovation) towards the browser it's starting to look a little irrelevant. Yes, we might get some IMS-based apps on the phone - IM, presence, even full VoIP - but that's not where the cool stuff is, and I think that the web aspects of the handset are moving too fast to be captured in even a next-gen IMS/Web architecture.
In particular, the chance for VoIP to become an "anchor tenant" for IMS has diminished, with the standardisation of the fairly-pointless MMTel Multimedia Telephony. As I've mentioned before, 3GPP has totally missed the point with MMTel: next-gen mobile telephony will be about integration, mashups & web services.... not video-calling/sharing and other "media".
Given that some sort of VoIP is mandatory with LTE (unless operators want to run GSM/UMTS networks in parallel forever), somebody really needs to get working on a more useful mobile VoIP standard NOW, and work out how to implement it in phones. In fact, whoever does the work should start from the standpoint of the user, with a phone in his/her hand and then work backwards to determine what the network has to look like to support a proper version of Mobile Telephony v2.0.
One of the themes I've discussed with a few companies recently has been the impact this could have on cellular network architecture. In particular, I've been looking at the current converging mess at the edge of the network that is some combination of SBC, security gateway, softswitch, GGSN and assorted other functions. I've been speaking to companies like Stoke, Acme Packet, Sonus, Nextpoint, Mavenir etc recently, and I'm starting to wonder if the required aggregation models will be driven indirectly by device type & usage cases, as much as they are by infrastructure-based decisions for multi-access.
If the traffic delivered by handsets - and the capabilities valued by end-users - moves away from session-based services like voice & IM, and towards more web/browser/widget functionality - what effect does that have on the boxes at the edge? I haven't got a full answer to this yet, but it's definitely something I'm looking into closely.