Big markets seem to always have three or four major players. The top wireless carriers are AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Music has the big four record labels with Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI, and Warner Music Group.

Mobile operating systems have a big three too. It’s Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft.

Apple has a bit of a lead in the cell phone market, and the iPhone 4S has been the biggest seller for the top wireless carriers. Google has gained huge steam with its open-source Android operating system.

The battle for “social” has three big players too; Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. The companies behind them? You guessed it. Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

The future of mobile

Instead of talking about the future of mobile, you could make the argument that mobile is the future of everything. We’re making big purchases using our phone, interacting with the people we care about the most, along with everything else that really matters.

The future of mobile relies on how advanced operating systems can become. Apple’s iOS makes us think in terms of “apps”, which is becoming an old software way of thinking. Developers are starting to call the UI “Boxy”. Apple will have to evolve its OS to allow apps to speak to each other seamlessly without having to flip back and forth between them to connect and share information.

Android has a huge opportunity to capitalize on what Apple’s missing. Since the OS is open source, there are smart developers everywhere working on pushing the envelope outside of what Google could ever imagine or come up with itself.

And then there’s Microsoft. The latest Windows Phones running Mango are focused on social interactions. Live tiles bring your phone to life in ways that make Apple’s iOS feel stale and boring. It used to be a game of how much data you could get onto a mobile device, but now it’s more about how that data gets displayed.

These three companies will push each other to build the mobile experience around people and their daily lives. Watching YouTube videos in the palm of my hand simply isn’t impressive anymore.

The future of social

Microsoft should have an edge here, because of its involvement and investment in Facebook. Creating the best Facebook experience should be an area that Windows Phones can own. Unfortunately, they don’t own it. Even though Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t come to terms with Apple on building a partnership, the best experience for Facebook is on Apple’s iDevices. There are 800 million users there, so building the best Facebook experience would be a good idea for Microsoft.

Apple decided to bet on Twitter, integrating it deeply within iOS 5. So far, I haven’t seen any runaway uses of Twitter built into an operating system, other than being able to tweet something quicker than before. Twitter isn’t the future of social at all, it’s just a component.

And then we have Google and Google+. Google not only owns the OS, they own the social service. For Microsoft and Apple, they aren’t afforded that type of control. If Google truly is focusing on social, they can make the best sharing and interaction experience just by owning both the OS and the social service.

Unfortunately, the Android version of Google+ still feels stand-alone and not integrated into the phone. Perhaps the next version of Android’s OS will fix that. Jelly Bean, anyone?

Who will win?

Since Facebook has the advantage in social with its 800 million mainstream users, Microsoft better get its act together fast. The “Me” section of its Windows Phone OS is a glimpse into the future of social on the go. Updates and replies from all services are blended together into one personalized stream. From that stream you can interact with those people via text or phone call.

People will drive the future mobile and social experience, not apps. Therefore, we all win. All three companies will start focusing its experiences around interactions with people, not the services those people use.

Apple, you have your two strong competitors, it’s time to show us one more thing.