New Linux Mobile Stats Showcase Smartphone Frustrations

The mobile space is nothing if not nuanced. That point was driven home Wednesday (July 14) when ABI Research released its latest batch of mobile marketshare figures.

Those stats showed that Linux-based mobile devices "will outstrip growth of the entire mobile device market" by 2015, with Linux controlling 62 percent of the mobile OS space. For a retailer looking to select which mobile platforms to prioritize, that's important. Ahhh, but then the footnotes start.

Those stats are limited to non-smartphones. For smartphones in 2015, ABI only gives Linux 33 percent of the mobile market. But in 2015, won't all mobile devices be smartphones, at least by 2010 definitions? Not according to ABI, which puts today's percentage of smartphones at 18 percent, a figure it estimates will grow to only 30 percent by 2015.

Only 30 percent? Victoria Fodale, ABI's senior analyst for mobile devices, offered the firm's smart definition: "ABI's definition of a smartphone is fairly broad: the inclusion of a high-level operating system and the ability of the end user to install third-party applications. The core definition of a smartphone includes access to data, but the application mechanism is not specified. Today that application is most likely to be a browser. Tomorrow, it could possibly be something else."

A common definition includes some sort of a keyboard (on-screen or physical) along with Internet access, but the third-party app download is a fair addition. Still, it seems quite likely that capability will be something almost all phones will be able to master by 2015. The high-level OS, though, is the tricky part.

That requirement could be considered a goal that would, by definition, never permit smartphones to be dominant marketshare-wise. It's saying a smartphone is simply among the most sophisticated phones at the time. That's a fine definition. But if not everyone uses it, it becomes meaningless.

Even more frustrating is a fact that ABI stressed: Quite a few application environments ride atop Linux (it properly cited Google's Android and Chrome OSs, MeeGo and Palm's webOS). So even if Linux does achieve overwhelming marketshare, deployment decisions will more likely need to be focused on those top environments.

This fact gets us into the question of mobile standards. If ever an area needed a standard, mobile in 2010 is that area.