It’s been around for 9 years, is on over 1,200 handset models, used by over 65 OEM’s, available in 25 countries, and has over 250M potential users. Yet you may never have heard of it. It is BREW, a mobile operating system developed by Qualcomm that powers anything from feature phones to low-cost smartphones. For feature phones, BREW is the OS of choice for AT&T and Verizon, the two biggest carriers in the US.
Recently, Qualcomm announced that over $3 Billion worth of transactions have occurred on its platform through app purchases on the millions of phones with BREW. Though that’s over the course of 9 years, it’s important to realize that there are only 18,000 applications on BREW across even fewer developers, according to Qualcomm. So the developers responsible for those applications have made a killing.
I met with Qualcomm at GDC and they’re quite proud of their success, citing a recent report from AT&T in which they committed to using BREW as the primary OS for all “non-Smartphones” (Android, iPhone, Symbian, WinMo). AT&T added that only 30% of its customers are buying Smartphones, and the “second tier” of customers will use BREW. To top it off, AT&T said that second tier of phones is growing faster than the Smartphone market.
The flip side, of course, is that BREW just doesn’t have the distribution platform of an Apple or Google, and clearly lacks the sex appeal. The browser still looks like it’s from the 1990′s and they hardly have more capabilities than a J2ME phone. Furthermore, the platform is light-years away from having the openness of Google or even Apple. It is extremely expensive to crack the distribution channels on BREW, which are dominated by the bureaucratic and largely inept mobile operators.
Qualcomm, however, doesn’t care – because it benefits regardless of whether you buy a smartphone or a BREW-based device. They are a chipset manufacturer and used in many of the smartphones on the market. Increasingly, mobile OS companies are putting their faith in Qualcomm’s new SnapDragon processor. It will be the processor of record for Windows Phone, most Android phones (including the Nexus One), Palm, and Symbian.