I was speaking recently at a software company very interested in mobile apps. One of their concerns had to do with which operating systems to support.  Should they do them all?  Just a couple? My advice was that three’s a crowd.

Technical markets tend to divide like bettors at the racetrack where five percent win, 10 percent break even while 85 percent lose. Turning these numbers on their head and applying them to mobile OS revenue, IOS (iPhone, iPad, iGizmo to be named later) will generate 85 percent, Android 10 percent (because it is Open Source and free) leaving only five percent max for mobile OS number three, which could be Blackberry or Windows Phone 7 but can’t be both.

Notice this is all about revenue.  I’m not saying Android won’t have more phones in use than Apple, just that Apple will make a lot more money from its phones.

Since Microsoft feels it can’t afford to miss the mobile transition, they’ll do anything to hold at least the third spot, which is why I expect Redmond to eventually acquire RIM. That would actually be a better than usual deal for Microsoft. RIM has (residual and fading) market share as well as incredible talent at its Waterloo, Ontario HQ, not to mention a bootload of cash. What they don’t have is a clue, which is why they need Microsoft, which is clueless, too, but will at least provide desperate new leadership, mass, and marketing clout.

Hey, I think that was my first prediction for 2012!

Another option for Microsoft would be to embrace Android and reposition Windows Phone as a shell, making Android apps look and function like Windows apps. This is not as stupid as it sounds. Thanks to its aggressive legal department, Microsoft already makes more money from Android than does Google, so Android’s success can be seen as Microsoft’s success if you squint a little. Microsoft could specialize in Android services where Google might be letting users down a bit and the Microsoft/Android Application Store could sell apps for both OS variants, undercutting Google.

That’s prediction #2: If Microsoft doesn’t buy RIM they’ll license Android.

If they are really on their game Microsoft will do both (buy RIM and license Android) which would be a true game changer.

This potentially leaves a little room for other candidates for mobile OS position #3, but I’m at a loss for a good business case for even trying. Consider, for example, Intel’s new mobile OS project called Tizen, which replaces the failed Meego.

Tizen looks to me like a bad bet. Intel even championing a mobile OS against IOS and Android is spitting in the wind. The best that Intel can hope is to grab third place, which would still take a miracle.

Is a potential five percent market share worth Intel’s time?  I don’t think so.

Prediction #3: Tizen will fail in 2012.