If common wisdom is to be believed - and we'll say right here there's no reason it has to - there is only room for one more major mobile platform alongside iOS and Android. Sure, we've had lots more up until now, but now that we've all got our heads around this OS thing, and had a decent taste of a few apps, the numbers are going to thin.
In other words, if common wisdom is to be believed, there are hard times ahead for a couple of seriously big players. So who will survive and who will fall by the wayside? We look at the contenders for that coveted third spot, and rate their chances.
Reasons for: RIM's major advantage over its rivals is that it already is the third ecosystem. BlackBerry also has the kind of vocal brand loyalty only matched by Apple, and – thanks to past glories – Nokia. The global appeal of BBM isn't to be underestimated either, and of course there's the chance that future BlackBerrys could run Android apps.
Reasons against: there's a serious lesson to be learnt from Symbian's demise, and that's that market share won't protect you if you lose critical momentum. And no matter where you look, RIM's market share is on the decline. BlackBerry's forthcoming hardware doesn't look game-changing either, and at best looks set to slow the decline rather than turn things around.
Verdict: the fact that RIM is privately testing Android apps shows the company understands the situation it's in. BlackBerry OS isn't going anywhere in a hurry, but its glory days are gone and we can't see it surviving as a true 'third force' for consumers in the long term.
Windows Phone 7
Reasons for: only Android can match Microsoft's range of hardware partners pushing its platform. And with Nokia now on board, it has bags of back-end smarts to add to what is already a much-loved front end on Windows Phone 7. The common consumer identifies with and trusts Microsoft too (rightly or wrongly), and there's plenty of cash being poured into WinPho's development, particularly when it comes to getting developers onside.
Reasons against: Microsoft's tight hold on hardware spec for WinPho phones means it's squandering the advantage of having different hardware partners on the platform. And how many of those partners have Windows Phone 7 as their primary OS? For all the talk, WinPho has a small market share, a tiny app portfolio and no real hero devices on the horizon.
Verdict: in the end, Microsoft will spend its way to third ecosystem status, but what it will end up with is no mobile OS powerhouse slugging away alongside Android and iOS. That ship has sailed.
Reasons for: HP obviously believed strongly enough in webOS to spend heavily on buying a Palm brand that otherwise was in deep trouble. And with the Pre 3 looking like such a strong device, there's no question it intends to make a decent go of it.
Reasons against: as a solo flyer, you just can't see enough webOS hardware coming out for it to make an impact with either developers or consumers over the next couple of years. Plus, while HP's decision to drop the Palm name makes sense overall, HP's name has no mobile heritage with consumers and it faces a fight to win consumers over to the cause.
Verdict: the HP Pre 3 is the best piece of hardware on any of the platforms involved here, but of course that's not enough to secure third ecosystem status. If we're looking at pure mobile, webOS doesn't stand a chance, but HP's other plans for the platform could make things interesting.
It's easy to play these platforms up against each other on paper, but in reality things are seldom so simple. Just because many analysts are talking up this concept of a third ecosystem doesn't mean things will end up that way, and even if it does that doesn't mean there won't be room on the sidelines for other players. One thing we do know is that you get what you pay for, and in that sense, Windows Phone 7 is the only name here that has a legitimate chance of standing up as an independent rival to iOS and Android. We just hope Microsoft isn't planning on holding a huge chunk of the market.