Ultra-low cost revolution Part 2: which platform wins?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Ultra-low cost revolution Part 2: which platform wins?
Ultra-low cost devices are the biggest segment that no one talks about, but that doesn't mean that the companies providing the platforms aren't planning for them. If the predictions are right, the next few years should be huge for smartphones in emerging markets. And, the proliferation of smartphones and faster Internet connections could spur a global culture explosion from the easy sharing of local content across the globe. But, the real question is: which platform has the best shot to be the face of this emerging market segment?

We've already looked at how Google can use Motorola to break into this segment, how multiple-user support is essential, and the cultural and economic revolution that could follow the technology boom. Of course, that's the issue - the boom has already started, and while some of the major players in the smartphone market planned for it at one point, they have moved on very quickly. This leaves a huge market segment opportunity for far more platforms than we see in most markets. 

The Market  

In Europe, North America, and Japan, the major players in the smartphone market are Android and iOS; then, depending on the country, there will be minor to modest shares for BlackBerry, Symbian, bada, and Windows Phone. Of course, we always have to remember that the rest of the world is mostly feature phone territory. Smartphones haven't even surpassed 50% of the mobile device shipments worldwide, and beyond that, shipments and install bases are two different things. Feature phones still have an install base close to 70% of the mobile phone market; and, although the shipment numbers are in a free fall for Symbian right now, as of January Symbian still held 90% of the African smartphone market. So, even if the shipments are falling, the install base is still there.

BlackBerry also has a large segment of the market share in certain areas of Africa. In South Africa, BlackBerry holds 48% of the smartphone market, but the smartphone market is fairly small. Android makes up less than 1% of the market, and iPhone is less than .5%. The rest of the South African smartphone market is held by Nokia and Symbian, which is most likely to change.

Android has been the platform that has been taking over most regions around the world, and it looks poised to do the same in in Africa. Of course, Microsoft also wants to be part of that emerging market. This was why Microsoft created Windows Phone Tango to begin with. The trouble is, emerging markets like Africa and South America rely on ultra-low cost smartphones, and both school and Microsoft have moved past their platforms which run well on low-cost devices. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and Windows Phone 8 are all designed to run on high-end devices, and simply won't work with older hardware. 

Platform evolutions

In fact, none of the major smartphone platforms can run on ultra-low cost smartphones right now. Apple doesn’t make products for low end markets. Versions of BlackBerry that run on low end devices are being phased out in favor of BlackBerry 10. Symbian is dying. Google has left behind Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which could run on low end devices. And similarly, Microsoft has left behind Windows Phone 7.5 which was designed for low end devices. So, it seems as though the only options for these emerging markets would be either use an outdated version of old platform, which would come with security risks and lack of support, or go with a less feature rich solution. As we mentioned last time, the Nucleus real-time operating system (RTOS) has tended to be that solution.

Of course, the Nucleus RTOS doesn’t offer the apps and features that we would expect from a smartphone platform. This means that options that we would use in order to connect with other people around the world may not be available, except possibly as a web app. And, if Nucleus or any other platform like it doesn’t have a web browser that’s up to par, that could severely limit the possibilities brought by the smartphone revolution. The closest option is Nokia's S40. 

S40 is the low-end version of S60, and is powering a huge amount of phones around the world, especially in emerging markets. There are a couple issues that keep S40 from being a real player in this discussion. First, it's really hard to call S40 a "smartphone" OS, it is really not much more than a "feature+" phone. Sure, there are apps, and a web browser, but there is no HTML5 support in said browser, and no 3rd party APIs to make those apps anything more than basic. Second, S40 is on a huge number of phones, and is getting shipped in the millions every month, but Nokia's focus has shifted. Nokia has already abandoned Symbian in favor of Windows Phone, so there's no guarantee that S40/S60 will continue to get support.

It is certainly possible that Google and Microsoft will once again adapt their new platforms for low-end markets, but the farther along we go, the more difficult that's going to be. With each successive iteration of Android and Windows Phone, as with any operating systems, the minimum requirements for the platform continue to rise. This will leave ultra-low cost devices farther and farther behind as we move forward, and it'll open up an opportunity for a competitor to move into what is the fastest growing market segment in the world. 

The possible winners

As we said before, Apple doesn't build for low-end markets, so emerging markets are going to have to settle for older Apple devices, if they are to get any Apple devices of all. Microsoft is likely to ride out Windows Phone 7.5 in emerging markets as long as it can and hope that hardware costs come down enough that Windows phone eight will be able to transition in sooner rather than later. BlackBerry already has a pretty solid base in emerging markets. BlackBerry is available in 40 African countries, and RIM has deals with 85 different carriers on the continent. So, even with the introduction of BlackBerry 10 fairly soon, it seems that BB 7 will certainly be a platform targeted towards emerging markets.

And, as always there is Android. Manufacturers like Huawei and Samsung are determined to increase footholds in emerging markets. As of this past March, Samsung held 10% of the sub-Saharan mobile phone market and had vowed to double that market share within a year. That doesn't necessarily mean smartphones, but given Samsung's history with Android devices, it's easy to assume that the company has the devices available that can be sold as ultra-low cost handsets. This will undoubtedly mean that the Android platform statistics that we always see will continue to have a fairly high rate of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, because these low-cost devices simply can't handle the newer versions of android. And, if the rate of smartphone adoption in emerging markets moves as quickly as analysts expect, that could mean that Gingerbread continues to see new activations far longer than Google would like, until hardware costs come down enough for newer versions to be pushed out. 


Of course, we would love to be proven wrong, and to see Google will rework the Jelly Bean code to be able to scale better to lower and devices, or see Microsoft do the same with Windows Phone 8, but that is pretty unlikely. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for platform like webOS to make a comeback, or perhaps Samsung plans to increase its market share in Africa by using bada, but only time will tell, and it's unclear if that would even be the best solution.

All we know for sure right now is that smartphone adoption is not going to slow down, especially in regions like South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. So, there will need to be a platform to fill that space. The best solution would be to have an OS specifically designed for those markets rather than an older platform that has known security risks, vulnerabilities, and limitations, but it's unclear where that OS might come from. In the meantime, it seems inevitable that Android 2.3, BlackBerry 7, and perhaps even Symbian will be the platforms that build the quickly-growing smartphone markets in emerging regions, despite the security risks of Android 2.3, the limitations of BlackBerry 7, and the lack of support for Symbian.



1. mercorp

Posts: 1045; Member since: Jan 28, 2012

may the best platform win.

2. Stoli89

Posts: 333; Member since: Jun 28, 2010

I'm amazed that this author attempted to write about low cost emerging market mobile OS's and never once mentioned S40. Nokia's "feature" phone OS allows the user to download apps, has built in navigation, e-mail, messaging, etc. It only lacks multi-tasking...which last time I checked puts it in the ballpark of IOS and WP7.5. Nokia is selling over 90 Million of these devices a QUARTER.

6. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I had considered it, but felt that S40 wasn't really in the "smartphone" world. Still, it should have gotten a mention. I'll fix that.

9. kindlefireowner

Posts: 504; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

What security risk with gingerbread are you talking about.

12. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

It is far easier to get malware onto Gingerbread because it doesn't employ ASLR

15. neutralguy

Posts: 1152; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

touched optimized S40 devices are smartphone aren't they? Based on experience, it could be the best platform for "ultra-low" cost phones. Android just can't really do it that well when put on a low spec phone.

19. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

basically they are not smartphone OS... it can be called a smartphone if it can multitask..S40 cant do that.. you need to kill the apps before returning to menu and read or reply on a message... i have a java base cheap smartphone, cheaper than s40 phone.. it can multitask.. i can read and reply to messages while my app is still running on background...

21. redmd

Posts: 1943; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

I thought you were talking about IOS in the first paragraph.

29. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

thumbs down me... but you cant change the truth that s40 cant multitask... and all its apps are java...

33. neutralguy

Posts: 1152; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

I don't know that the definition of "smartphone" was all about multitasking.. back in the days, people would call n95 a smartphone. Even this phone was called a smartphone:http://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_3230-review-33.php oh, anyway, definition changes as time passes by.

34. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

well ok...maybe its not.. but we are living today... so smartphones basically needs multitasking and rich ecosystem... and s40 dont have that!! symbian has multitasking and decent set of apps (100,000 is i think plenty...)

38. thelegend6657 unregistered

Nokia should have used s60 in asha lineup instead of s40 Why have a feature+ OS on a asha with the 1ghz CPU ? Honestly my n97 is a lot better with 1ghz CPU but its slow because Nokia put in a lousy 434 MHz CPU

41. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

Michael, thanks for the good article. Are you sure that "Smartphones have surpassed 50% of the mobile device shipments worldwide"? I highly doubt it, as per the last sales report 150 mill smartphones were sold out of 400 mill, that's still less than 40%.http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=2120015 Are shipments really that different from real sales?

3. snowgator

Posts: 3621; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

Windows Phone Tango (Nokia 610) was designed with just that in mind. I do think 7.5/7.8 could be used, but Tango was designed for low end builds, less RAM, and smooth operation on the low end. Stoli89 sure has a point, though. Hard to argue with 90 million devices a year.

22. redmd

Posts: 1943; Member since: Oct 26, 2011

Cut the price of Nokia 610 in half and now we're talking ultra-low cost.

31. snowgator

Posts: 3621; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

Point taken.

32. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

they should really need to cut downt the price.. both BB7 and WP7 devices.. since they both wont be upgraded to BB10 and WP8 respectively... but in my place lumia 800 go down... before it was like 24990 now ith 19990.. but still pricey for a phone that wount be supported.... same goes to BlackBerry... samsung's last flagship cut down its price but BB's high end and flagship (Torch and Bold) still pricey...

36. denied911

Posts: 361; Member since: May 31, 2012

glaxy y&mini baby that's low cost

4. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

For low cost...they all win as long as the price is right and the phone, software works fine.

5. webOSlove unregistered

I WISH webOS would make a comeback in these market s

28. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

yeah.. i was hoping it too... i mean once upon a time webOS was US most love OS... but HP make a stupidiest move.. and destroy webOS... but thank to some effort of firing the CEO, webOS might be awaken from its long slumber... it will be open source and it might be a threat to android..but it will use the most advance linux kernel... android is currently on 3.1 linux and newly open webOS is 3.3... i dont know what kernel will jolla OS use.. jolla is the baby of meego and mer... a true linux!


Posts: 61; Member since: Aug 21, 2012

By the way, nice article as usual Michael H. Hope they all do well.

8. someguy

Posts: 2; Member since: Aug 21, 2012

Oops, you forgot Mozilla and their upcoming Firefox OS, which is specifically targeting low cost mobile phones and markets like Brazil: http://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2012/07/02/firefox-mobile-os/

14. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

its not ready for primetime... i think this article is focusing on emerging market... basically firefox OS is not suitable on that market.. its basically all internet base, HTML5 codes, apps, etc.. so during offline, the phone is dead...

49. webOSlove unregistered

webOS was internet based as well, and it ran just fine on phones . in 2009, it wasnt ready for primetime, but now, is probably the right time

50. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

oh.... so i thats why i wanted webOS to comeback... i mean... it will be a great competition to android in open source!! but honestly, HP needs to change the name.. open webOS sounds pathetic.. not that catchy...

10. MeoCao unregistered

Android wins hands down. It's popular, no cost, easy acess, good support from various open source projects unlike any other platform.

16. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

but you forgot that its not free at all.. remember that manufacturers like HTC and samsung pays Microsoft $10-12 due to royalties in every android devices they sold? and apple is suing samsung and wants them to pay $30-40 on every smartphone and tablet they sold? the android for low end is upto 2.3 only... then it will soon be phase out... but that if ICS or JB will play right on a single core 800mhz..even 2.3 lags a lot on that processor speed...

18. AppleWho

Posts: 57; Member since: Aug 06, 2012

single core, 1GHz, 1GB RAM phones would suffice - have Samsung come out with the Captivate again and mass market that baby in Africa only. I still have mine and it runs great on JB.

20. pikapowerize

Posts: 1869; Member since: May 03, 2012

but we are talking about super low here... yes 1ghz of processor is now available on cheap market (mediatek, allwinner) but 1gb of ram is not... it will be pricey if they will do that..

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