They May Have Won the Battle
By Eric Lin, Tue Oct 05 00:45:00 GMT 2004

One by one, operating systems are giving up control of their look and feel to the carriers. The operators look like the victor in the fight to own the customer... for now.

Recently PalmSource announced that it was following Microsoft's lead, using overseas manufacturers to produce new smartphones that carriers could then brand as their own. The Symbian subsidiary UIQ, responsible for the OS running on Sony Ericsson's popular P- series models and other smartphones, has unveiled plans to allow operators to easily customize the interface and settings in its newest OS -- a feature which Microsoft (as well as UIQ, to a lesser degree) has offered before. However it's unlikely that Microsoft is the target of this new package, instead it's more probable that UIQ wants to cater to operators, especially those behind the Open Mobile Terminal Platform Alliance (OMTPA).

The Operator Configuration Package (OCP) can consist of an interface theme, including skins, icons and sounds. More importantly the OCP can also include settings, content and other operator-specific data beyond just the look and feel of the user interface. Many of these aspects are available in other smartphone OSes, however UIQ's OCP has an advantage. It puts all these elements together in a single file that operators or manufacturers can install whenever they want on as many different UIQ 3 devices as they want. So an operator can build a single OCP file and install it on a variety of UIQ 3 devices, even at the point of sale. Manufacturers no longer have to build and test different models for different manufacturers, and operators have the freedom to choose whatever handsets they like and customize them as early or as late in the manufacturing process as they choose.

Operator customization is common on most handset platforms and is becoming more critical as carriers, even European ones, move towards emphasizing their own brand above all others. Although it felt like a bit of an idle threat, or an advertisement for their own platform, the carriers move to form the OMTPA just may be what was needed to coerce OS makers into creating more easily customizable platforms. In the battle to own the customer, it seems the carriers are finally beating their traditional competitors. UIQ and Microsoft have conceded the "look and feel" of their OSes to the operators, and PalmSource will likely have to follow in the future. Nokia has closed Club Nokia ceding phone customization to operator portals and ringtone distributors. However now that operators may have successfully conquered these original challengers, new ones are rising in their place -- first to take up arms are the wave of Java-based portals being launched.