It is difficult to think of more a formidable product in the consumer electronics arena than the iPhone. It combines Apple’s superb knack for design, a proper Internet browser,  the iPod, the video iPod, and one more thing, what was it? Yes, that’s right, a mobile phone.

Can you think of a product, or a company, that could possibly outgun Apple’s iPhone?  Well, how about this one: Microsoft, keen to promote its Windows operating system onto mobile phones, and is prepared to put an awful lot of bucks behind it.  Microsoft’s big advantage over Apple, is that its operating system is for all.  It is not a proprietary product like the iPhone.  So Apple might have the coolest piece of kit in the world, but can it really take on everybody?

But even Microsoft has got its work cut out. How about this for formidable opposition? Google, the world’s most valuable brand.  Google isn’t all about a specific phone either; like Microsoft, it’s a standard it wants. It wants the world’s consumer electronics makers to make phones supporting its standard.  Google has one big advantage over Microsoft, it gives its operating system away for free. And what is more, its operating system is Linux based.

What’s good about Linux is this, it is an evolving product.There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of programmers out there working on Linux features  only the best are accepted. 

Google, of course, has the big advantage that it makes money on advertising, so it has a wonderful business plan, give the product away for free, and still make billions of dollars.

So that’s the three titans then Apple, Microsoft and Google.There’s a fourth player, little old RIM with its Blackberry. Such is the following this product has that it is a possibility it will win out, but surely it is more likely to get drowned by the cacophony from the big three.

But, wait a moment. Did you hear that?  There’s another tune playing, and this one could even outgun the west-coast of America trio for the fifth player is made up of Nokia, Vodafone, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, NTT DOCOMO, AT&amp,T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments. That is a group which must have even Microsoft and Co quaking.

Mind you, it all boils down to Nokia, really. For the Finnish company has bought out Symbian Limited, the mobile phone operating system initially launched by Psion. Why buy it out? Well, Nokia wants to turn Symbian software into a kind of Linux basher free, open and everywhere.

This is what Nigel Clifford, CEO of Symbian, had to say, “Ten years ago, Symbian was established by far sighted players to offer an advanced open operating system and software skills to the whole mobile industry.  Our vision is to become the most widely used software platform on the planet and indeed today Symbian OS leads its market by any measure. Today’s announcement is a bold new step to achieve that vision by embracing a complete and proven platform, offered in an open way, designed to stimulate innovation, which is at the heart of everything we do.” Ummm, heavy stuff.

Nokia says that mobile devices based on Symbian OS account for 60 per cent of the converged mobile device segment, and to date, more than 200 million Symbian OS based phones have been shipped, over 235 models, from 8 vendors and on more than 250 mobile networks around the world.  More than 4 million developers are engaged in producing applications for Symbian devices. 

Or to put it another way, Symbian has got off to a good start.

It all smacks a little of Isaac Asimov, because Nokia has started talking about a Symbian Foundation, made up of all those formidable players listed above. “Establishing the Foundation is one of the biggest contributions to an open community ever made,” said Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, CEO of Nokia. “Nokia is a strong supporter of open platforms and technologies as they give the freedom to build, maintain and evolve applications and services across device segments and offer by far the largest ecosystem, enabling rapid innovation. Today’s announcement is a major milestone in our devices software strategy.”

It is an interesting thing but Nokia wasn’t always like this. Time was when it was a manufacturer of gun boots.  Its decision to diversify seems to have paid off handsomely.  Now it is gunning for the world or at least gunning to stop dominance by any of the big three US firms.

Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist who was Keynes’s main rival for the epitaph of greatest economist of the 20th century, used to talk about Great Gales of Creative Destruction.  Schumpeter was a fan of monopoly.  He used to say only a monopoly, or a company with designs to become a monopoly, has the money to innovate in the modern world.  But, he said, monopolies fall, in waves of creative destruction.

Microsoft is an obvious example of a monopoly under threat from this new wave of creative destruction.

To the victor goes the spoils of becoming a new monopoly. The thrills of dealing with anti-trust regulation, and the challenge of fending off the next wave of creative destruction.

© Investment & Business News 2013