From Stardom to Silence: Lessons Learned from Discontinued Mobile Operating Systems

Lessons Learned from Discontinued Mobile Operating Systems

Why did these operating systems vanish into thin air?

In the ever-evolving world of mobile technology, few topics ignite the flames of passion and ignite spirited discussions quite like the mobile operating system (OS) debate. It’s a battleground where loyalties run deep, pitting the dedicated followers of Apple’s iOS against the fervent fanboys of Android. 

As we survey the landscape, it’s undeniable that iOS and Android sit atop the throne, each commanding a substantial portion of the market. Google’s Android reigns supreme, boasting an impressive 70.8% market share, while Apple’s iOS holds a respectable 28.4%. Together, they encompass a staggering 99.2% of the market. But this wasn’t always the case. In the ever-evolving landscape of mobile technology, a myriad of OSes had their moment in the spotlight, only to gradually fade into obscurity, leaving behind a wealth of lessons for posterity. 

These discontinued mobile OSes offer insights into the intricate web of factors that shaped their trajectories, exposing both triumphs and missteps. In this article, we delve deep into the captivating narratives of Symbian, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone, uncovering the stories of once-dominant contenders that now exist in the shadows. 

Windows OS (Microsoft)

Windows Phone 7 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Windows Mobile, once a promising contender in the mobile OS, brought a unique experience by integrating the familiar Windows desktop environment into smartphones. Microsoft’s inaugural Windows Phone, launched in 2010, was equipped with the Windows Phone 7 OS, predicated on the Metro design language and the Windows CE underpinnings. With its live tiles and seamless Microsoft service integration, it showcased a distinctive visual appeal. 

In 2015, Microsoft held a modest 1.9% of the smartphone market share with its Windows Phone. Initially envisaged as the successor to Windows Mobile and the Zune lines, the Windows Phone OS encountered compatibility issues with many Windows Mobile apps. Over time, the platform faced challenges in building a robust app ecosystem, ultimately limiting its appeal to consumers. With key app providers like WhatsApp withdrawing support and the growing hegemony of Apple’s iOS and Android, its popularity dwindled. 

In response, Microsoft made the decision to discontinue active development and support for the Windows Mobile OS in 2019. By 2020, Windows phones were projected to account for a mere 0.4% of all smartphone shipments. Nevertheless, the impact and lessons learned from Windows Mobile continue to shape the trajectory of the mobile industry, emphasizing the importance of a thriving app ecosystem and meeting user demands in a competitive market.

Blackberry OS 

BlackBerry Curve 8520 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The BlackBerry OS, lauded for its strong support of push Internet email, was powered by the dedicated BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Offering compatibility with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Novell Groupwise, Blackberry OS stood out as the go-to choice for secure email communication on smartphones. The system was exclusively integrated into BlackBerry phones like Bold, Curve, Pearl and Storm series. 

Despite notable achievements such as annual sales exceeding 50 million units in 2011 and a stock price soaring over US$230 per share in 2007, the landscape began to shift dramatically following the launch of Apple’s iPhone in 2007 and Google’s Android in 2008. These formidable competitors triggered a severe contraction in BlackBerry’s market share, a setback from which it struggled to recover.

At its apex in 2010, BlackBerry commanded a significant 43% of the mobile market. However, fortune swiftly reversed course. By 2012, BlackBerry’s portion of smartphone sales had dwindled to a scant 6%, and by the outset of 2013, this number was further halved. The downward trajectory continued relentlessly, ultimately reducing its market share to less than 1% by 2014 and nearly 0% by Q4 of 2016. Over seven years, global device sales scarcely surpassed 200,000.

The decline of BlackBerry can be traced back to its insufficient innovation, particularly in the realm of touchscreen technology. Their offering, the BlackBerry Storm, failed to woo users accustomed to physical keyboards. A disregard for other technological advancements, such as camera technology, coupled with a subpar adaptation to the competition, further accelerated their descent. Moreover, the paucity of app choices in its early OS versions weakened its standing against the app-rich ecosystems of Apple and Android devices.

The BlackBerry saga serves as a stark reminder of the high-stakes risks in the rapidly evolving technology sector. It underscores the importance of constant innovation, adaptability and responsiveness to consumer preferences in the dynamic smartphone market.

Symbian OS 

Vodafone-branded Nokia E90 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Formerly the heart and soul of Nokia, Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson smartphones, Symbian OS had a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. Its wide array of applications, seamless connectivity, a built-in WAP browser and power-saving features were its high points. On the downside, it fell short on personal computers (PC) availability, grappled with security concerns and lagged behind Android’s accuracy. The decline of Symbian OS occurred when developers lost interest, and Android ascended to widespread prominence.

Nokia, a key stakeholder in Symbian, faltered in adapting to the rapid pace of software evolution and neglected enhancing internal functionality. This oversight hindered the incorporation of necessary changes, resulting in compatibility issues and developer frustration. Insufficient implementation strategies and sparse developer support further impeded software testing and deployment. In a controversial move, Nokia dismissed plans to switch to Android, which accelerated Symbian’s downfall in the market.

Even at its zenith with the S60 v5 version, Symbian OS found itself unable to match strides with Android, despite subsequent updates like Anna and Belle. In 2014, Nokia pulled the plug on Symbian and transitioned to the Windows Mobile OS before Microsoft acquired its phone division. Presently, HMD Global owns the reins of the Nokia brand and has revitalized Nokia smartphones with Android as the default OS.

To sum up…

In conclusion, the world of technology is an unpredictable landscape where giants can crumble and newcomers can swiftly rise. The stories of platforms like Symbian, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the ever-changing nature of user preferences, technological advancements and market dynamics. In the realm of mobile OS, developer support, app ecosystems and user experience remain crucial for success, while strategic decision-making and adaptability are essential for longevity. As new contenders enter the stage, they must learn from the past to forge a path that resonates with users and withstands the test of time.

In the current landscape, iOS and Android undoubtedly hold sway. However, the potential for disruption and the advent of new players always lurk around the corner. The chronicle of mobile OS remains an unfolding saga, and the pen for the next chapter lies poised over the page, waiting to inscribe the future.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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