Unfortunately, the major flaw here is that all software houses are talked of annonymously - what kind of software are they selling? Is it mainstream? Most customers won't want an SSH client or a Task Manager for their phone, so if these vendors are selling niche nerdy software they are going to struggle once the geeks have all bought it and the only market growth is into the mainstream, where people don't understand and wouldn't care if they did. It's impossible to say if this is the case, but I'd love to know.
Tantalisingly, after discussing a market which only covers 8% of handsets shipped in 2006 Q1 (18.9m of 229m), and therefore a significantly lower proportion of handsets in consumer's hands (4.9% in 2005?), Michael ends on this note:
"As a couple of mobile developers told me recently, 'we need a new platform.' I'll write about what I think that means, and the prospects for it, next week."
What could he mean? Shurely not a platform supported on all those smartphones and a large proportion of the other 92% handsets as well?
The risk to the smartphone platforms is that the consumer phone OSs will just overtake them, if they can retain the ease of use of a conventional phone whilst organically growing the features people actually want from a smartphone (something Michael broadly appears to agree with); the Betamax kids can stick with their 'technically superior' bricks whilst the world moves on around them.
This market shift has seen Nokia's Series 40 fall from the top of the usability tree to be replaced by Sony-Ericsson, who after the flawed T610 have come on leaps and bounds and have done an excellent job in integrating advanced multimedia etc into a snappy usable phone-centric OS. Even better, the grid menu hilights move very sexily and the JVM is rock solid and Jazelle fast.
With the 7210 Nokia did an excellent job transferring their market leading OS into the brave new colour screen world, retaining the simplicity of two soft key control and the tried and tested menu system. Then they just hung in there with some trully hideous skins (UI and hardware) as the rest of the market got sexier, before introducing a central soft key - no bad thing in itself, but they produced counter-intuitive rules for soft key layout that destroyed the UI's earlier simplicity. Poor keypad decisions on the phenominally successful 6230 didn't help. At the same time feature creep started to introduce confusion to the menu structure, and it's taken them a long time to overcome this (and there's still some way to go).
The sad truth is that most people don't buy phones on the quality of the UI - they may be put off by bad experiences in the past, but when upgrading they are more often bothered about price and looks (seem to have lost all my links on recent research about that topic, anyone?). Equally, to nominally tie this all back in to the title and start of the post, they don't tend to buy phones because of their smartphone features - they may want an MP3 player and they may want an OK camera, but normally this is a secondary requirement and normally it is to supplement existing single purpose gadgets and not to replace them. This will change over time as handsets diversify and start to fill these niches more snugly, but the all conquering smartphone will forever occupy the smallest niche of tecnonerds, jack of all trades and master of none.