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With smart phones, it's all about the OS

IDC study of mobile phone habits from major world markets finds, among other things, that applications drive competition.

With smart phones, happiness all comes down to the operating system, according to a new survey from IDC.

The survey included data from more than 4,000 cell phone and smart phone subscribers from China, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States. Results were broken out by country, carrier, platform and device.

A user's satisfaction with a phone's operating system is the main differentiating factor driving competition, especially when it comes to smart phones, the study concluded.

Wi-Fi access and GPS or location-based services are most important to users in the U.K. and U.S. A phone's storage capacity and its ability to provide music and photo quality are the highest priorities in China, Germany and India, the study found.

Palm remains the No. 1 platform among U.S. smart phone owners, according to IDC. Nokia, not so much.

"Nokia is the No. 1 phone manufacturer in the world and the No. 1 brand for market share in all the other countries, but not in the U.S," said Randy Giusto, group vice president of mobility, computing and consumer markets for IDC. "These survey results show that nothing has really changed, despite efforts to target the E-series to mobile professionals and the N-series multimedia phones."

Palm is not only the most favored operating system for smart phones in the U.S., it's also the most favored device brand. About 76 percent of Palm owners said they would be "very likely to recommend" their smart phone to others, compared to about 75 percent for Samsung, 69 percent for Sony Ericsson, 67 percent for RIM Blackberry, 54 percent for Motorola and 54 percent for Nokia, the study found.

While not all of the four operating systems were available in all the countries surveyed, Palm was the top ranked OS in the U.K., while Windows Mobile was No. 1 in Germany and China. Symbian followed a close second in both countries. (Windows Mobile also ranked first in India, but there were not enough survey respondents who owned smart phones to do a fair comparison.)

Usage also differed by country. Germans surveyed, for example, did not increase the average monthly spending on services when they switched from a regular cell phone to a smart phone. In all the other countries, however, monthly average revenue per user for providers increased after switching to smart phones.