It Ain't Easy Being A Mobile OS CEO
By Mike Masnick, Mon May 23 17:45:00 GMT 2005

Apparently, being the CEO of a mobile operating system company isn't all it's cracked up to be. Mobile OS CEOs seem to be dropping like flies and over optimistic expectations may be to blame.


The smartphone market, like so much in the mobile world, seems to have suffered from delusions of grandeur too early in the process. It's an ongoing problem in the space, but "the next big thing" is often crowned well before the market is actually developed. This leads to companies making decisions as if their new offering was already widely accepted, rather than recognizing the need to cultivate and build a new market. In the last week, both Symbian and PalmSource received new CEOs, as the old ones stepped down. PalmSource's CEO is an interim one until a permanent CEO is found.

While there are a variety of reasons why these CEOs probably left, it is worthwhile to look at what the new CEOs should be doing. While Symbian and PalmSource face very different challenges, there are a few things that both should be doing. The first, is to recognize that this market is not a sure thing -- and that growth requires more than just showing up. There is a large education component in convincing people that the advantages of a smartphone over just a regular mobile phone or a feature phone are really worth the price -- and so far, the industry has done a terrible job of this. It has mostly relied on hype, early adopters and word of mouth, which all run out after a certain point.

The difficulty from the mobile OS providers' standpoint, of course, is that most of the marketing is done by the mobile operators (or, to a lesser extent, the handset providers). Any marketing from the OS side has to be indirect, or targeted at those who are bundling the OS with their own offerings. However, as Intel has shown over the years, it's certainly possible to drive end-user demand on a "component" of an overall system with smart end-user focused marketing. At the same time, the mobile OS providers need to continually push operators to open up the infrastructure and learn to support the mobile application ecosystem rather than control it from end-to-end. It seems clear that the OS providers all know the value of a strong developer network -- but they are often blocked by mobile operators who are afraid of opening up.

For a new CEO, then, there are plenty of challenges. The trick, though, is to focus on building the market from below, rather than waiting for the marketing to come to them. That means doing away with the hype, but focusing in on ways to really develop and sell the really useful features of new smartphones.