At last year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, there was a considerable amount of fanfare around new smartphone operating systems, as the big question about who will emerge as the third challenger to iOS and Android in the global mobile OS race is as elusive as ever.
In addition to persistent rumors of Nokia making an Android device, the new wave of web-based operating systems which debut to much fanfare at last year’s MWC will also likely be in the limelight once again. Relatively little progress with any of the new operating systems happened in 2013, but here is a rundown of the latest developments:
Firefox OS – Mozilla unveiled its first smartphone to carry its OS in October 2013, the LG Fireweb, and carried Brazil by mobile incumbent Vivo. Mozilla has chosen to focus on markets with relatively low smart device ownership levels and these devices are currently available in roughly eight countries. Tablets carrying the OS will also be available soon, as Mozilla recently announced Hon Hai as their OEM partner to create the New Tab F1, while announcing a smart TV partnership with Panasonic at this year’s CES in Las Vegas.
Verdict: Firefox OS has the best changes by far of emerging as a viable challenger in the OS space, as it has the most operator and vendor support. Time will tell if its emerging market strategy will bear fruit, as brand image might be a problem.
Tizen – Tizen generated the most buzz at last year’s MWC due to the involvement of Samsung, which produces the majority of the world’s Android smartphones and NTT DoCoMo, one of the world’s largest carriers. Unfortunately the project has lost momentum as NTT DoCoMo has delayed the release of a device twice, and has since started carrying the iPhone while Samsung has been largely mum on its stance. It is still likely that there will be a device released at this year’s MWC, most likely the ZTE Geek.
Verdict: The indefinite shelving of Tizen is a major blow to the operator’s chances in the market, but of course Samsung alone can make or break Tizen. It is clear that Samsung would like to own and control an ecosystem of its own, going back to the Bada days, but breaking with Android - which their customers have become used to - is risky, not to mention that Samsung indirectly benefits greatly from the R&D put into Android by Google. Tizen is likely to become ‘Bada 2’ unless Samsung does an about face.
Ubuntu – An OS endeared to the tech community, this Linux-based OS offers huge potential as an alternative with seamless connectivity for smart device/desktop use. The project is the largest crowdfunded project in history, but support from OEMs has been weak and releases have been delayed, and any meaningful carrier support is not expected until at least 2015.
Verdict: While impressive from a technological perspective, lack of vendor support will likely leave Ubuntu as a project for tech-saavy users for the near term.
Sailfish OS – Founded by ex-Nokia executives behind the short-lived Meego OS, Finnish company Jolla is yet another open-source OS. It is now compatible with Android and has begun taking orders for devices directly from its website.
Verdict: Like Ubuntu Salifish will likely be adopted mainly by technophiles unless vendors show support for the time being.
Overall it will be challenging for any of these operating systems to emerge as a major challenger to iOS or Android in the near term. The number of apps that both Apple and Google host on their app stores is insurmountable, and what’s more several proprietary apps are so integrated into consumer’s lives that any device without them will not be acceptable. Microsoft has struggled with this issue for years, and this issue was directly responsible for Blackberry’s downfall.
That being said, the idea of HTML 5 apps and compatibility of coding is too promising a concept for the industry and this is the direction that software will head. Interestingly there has been a movement towards dual OS phones, which could be the solution to the insurmountable advantage enjoyed by Apple and Google.
Who wouldn’t want an iPad which could be taken to work and use MS office while using Apple’s software for entertainment at home? Ok this will never happen but what about Android/Microsoft? Several announcements at this year’s CES show, especially from Intel, showed support for the concept and a few dual OS devices have been released already. Spanish start-up GeeksPhone also just announced a dual Android/Firefox smartphone as well. Of course licensing, component costs and other issues need to be sorted out, and in a perfect world everything will be compatible under HTML 5, but dual devices just might be the perfect bridge to fill this gap.