Telcos, vendors fight Google-Apple duopoly

Ronan de Renesse/Analysys Mason
02 Apr 2013

The two key priorities with regard to smartphones for operators worldwide are to increase smartphone penetration among the mobile subscriber base as quickly as possible and to regain some control over the smartphone experience.

The smartphone market is currently dominated by two operating systems: iOS from Apple and Android from Google. Together, those two operating systems currently account for nearly 80% of worldwide smartphone shipments. A third significant smartphone ecosystem would benefit operators by making them more relevant to customers in device purchase selection and managing transitions from one ecosystem to the other.

Firefox OS and Tizen are both new operating systems vying to become this third smartphone platform and are therefore heavily supported by operators. At the time of writing, 18 operators and five handset manufacturers backed Firefox OS, whereas Tizen had six operators and five handset manufacturers as partners. The greater openness offered by those new operating systems allows a higher level of customisation and therefore more control for operators over the application experience and its monetisation. In addition, the hardware requirements for Firefox OS are much lower so that very cheap smartphones can be designed based on the OS. This is a great advantage for operators wanting to increase smartphone penetration in developing markets.

Such an industry-wide commitment to push for an alternative to Android and iOS will help diversify the smartphone OS market, but a number of challenges mean that it will be a long time before one or both open ecosystems gain significant market share.

The biggest challenge for Firefox OS will be to manage the consumer experience and trust with regard to app usage and distribution in the low-end segment. Samsung currently has too much influence over Tizen, which may limit the interest of other handset vendors in developing Tizen-based handsets. Finally, stakeholders’ loyalty to either Firefox OS or Tizen is questionable.

Several operators have indicated to us that they would not rule out switching camp if one OS gains more traction than the other.

Consequently, only a handful of stakeholders are in fact fully committed to Tizen or Firefox OS, which diminishes their future prospects. Analysys Mason predicts ‘challenger’ operating systems like Tizen and Firefox OS (i.e. other than Android, BlackBerry OS, iOS, Windows Phone and Symbian) will only account for 7.3% of shipments by the end of 2017 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Smartphone shipments by OS, worldwide, 2007–2017 [Source: Analysys Mason, 2012]

This research comes from Analysys Mason’s Mobile Broadband and Devices research programme which offers operators strategic insight on mobile devices and the mobile data services that accompany them [!/Consumer-services/Programmes/Mobile-Broadband-and-Devices]

Ronan de Renesse is a principal analyst at Analysys Mason where he leads two research programs on Mobile Content and Applications, and Mobile Broadband and Devices. He holds a PhD in Telecommunications from King's College London.

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