Editorial: Could 2013 Be the Rise of a New Mobile OS War? Several Alternatives Coming

dgstorm

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Right now in the mobile world when it comes to operating system choice it is decidedly a two-horse race. Based upon sell-through numbers over the past year, Android and iOS are so far ahead of the competition, it seems like they are the only ones racing. Of course, there are alternatives. Microsoft has actually been able to raise their marketshare a tiny amount, but Blackberry has continued to decline.

This near-duopoly is likely not good for the mobile world as a whole, as it detracts from consumer choice and could eventually stifle competition (although right now the rivalry between Android and iOS has propelled it forward). Luckily, starting this year we might see some new entries into the mobile landscape come forward to challenge the primary leaders. Some of these players are not at all surprising, and have been trying to break into this market for a while, but we do have a couple of surprise entrants. More than likely these new players won't be able to make much of a dent in 2013, but it is a start. If any of these alternatives gain traction, we could start seeing changes in the mobile landscape as early as next year. Here's a breakdown of most of the players below with their developer next to them.
  • Android - Google
  • iOS - Apple
  • Windows Phone 8 - Microsoft
  • Blackberry - Blackberry
  • Tizen - Samsung
  • Alibaba - from the Alibaba Group
  • Firefox - Mozilla
  • Sailfish - Jolla
Update: We realized we forgot to mention Ubuntu. This is another open source alternative that received some attention not too long ago, but we haven't heard much about recently. Because it is open source it's possible it could get interest from manufacturers. Here's a link to it just for the curious: Ubuntu for phones | Ubuntu

The story for the first few is mostly a known quantity. Blackberry is on a rapid decline and has been for the last two years. Android took the global crown from iOS, but iOS is still a strong close second. Windows Phone is still a distant third to Android and iOS, but they have recently gained marketshare, which is a good sign.

We have been hearing rumblings about Samsung's Tizen for quite some time. This OS was jointly developed with Intel, so it definitely has some serious potential with big backers like these two juggernauts. More than likely we will be seeing a phone with the Tizen OS hit retail shelves sometime in August of this year. This OS is the one most likely to give chase to the dominant players.

We have heard of Alibaba before as well. This is the mobile OS from a company in China called the Alibaba group which previously became controversial because they were apparently stealing a large portion of their OS from Android. At one time Acer was going to put out a phone with the Alibaba OS, but Google asked them not to because it would violate the licensing agreements Acer has with Google for Android. Alibaba is moving forward with their revamped version and if they gain any traction it will be in the lucrative Chinese market. Google has had some problems in this market. They pulled their search out of the country due to censorship issues with the Chinese government. Because of this many of their services, like Google Maps, the Google Play Store and GMail do not work on Android phones there. This is a potential opportunity for Alibaba and where they will likely see the best success. They will have a hard time competing in international markets, however, and will likely never make it into the U.S. due to security concerns from the U.S. government.

The two newest mobile OS alternatives will be the Firefox Mobile OS from Mozilla and the Sailfish Mobile OS from Jolla. These are the smallest fish in this very big sea, but they have some potential trump cards which could help them gain ground against the major players. For Jolla, their Sailfish OS will focus heavily on security, since this is sometimes a "perceived" problem with Android and iOS.

Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox web browser have been steadily working hard on their Firefox Mobile OS. They have a good shot at gaining marketshare on name alone, especially if they can make an OS that distinguishes them from the crowd.

Ultimately, it's great to see these mobile OS alternatives, and it is possible this year will mark the rise of a new mobile OS war. The one thing that will make or break any of them is apps. If any of these OS alternatives can offer a compelling experience and access to a wide bevy of useful apps, then we might see one of them challenge the dominance of Android and iOS. Until that happens, more than likely it will continue to be a two-horse race.

Here's a great video article from the WSJ discussing some of these new mobile OS alternatives: Video - The Quest for Alternative Mobile Operating Systems - WSJ.com
 
It's a chicken/egg thing - you need critical mass for OEM's to make great phones, but you need great phones for critical mass.

The bigger issue is there's very little dissatisfaction with Android and IOS. Android, especially, is pretty powerful with all the Google services integration.

The only alternative I think with a real chance to compete is Windows, because of its massive PC/Office base. As these phones become truly powerful enough to replace a laptop (we are getting very close), it's going to be a no-brainer for IT departments both from a support perspective and a cost savings.
 
I'm not any type of developer, but I think the more operating systems we have, the more fractured (there's a better word for this, it's right on the tip of my tongue but I can't think of it) we'll see apps and games become. I've seen a few occurrences of this already, where people flat out say they will not port their product to either iOS or Android, sticking to just one of the platforms. Hopefully I'm wrong in that assessment because I would like to see 4 or 5 good mobile operating systems that are neck and neck with each other. It'll keep each manufacturer plugging at ways to make theirs the more useful one.
 
besides ios, android and windows others don't stand a chance. too little too late.
 
This will end up breaking down along the same lines as the PC market:- Artsy fartsies, educators, students will be primarily iOS- Corporate will be primarily Windows- Geeks and techies will be primarily AndroidThe percentages will shake out to roughly 17%, 50%, and 33% respectively.Apple will continue to charge the most, have the most diehard loyal following, and therefore make the most per device. Fanboys are dumb.
 
I'm not any type of developer, but I think the more operating systems we have, the more fractured (there's a better word for this, it's right on the tip of my tongue but I can't think of it) we'll see apps and games become.

I think you were looking for fragmented? Regardless, you bring up a valid point. The more variety that exists, the more work developers will be required to put in to support the different platforms.
 
besides ios, android and windows others don't stand a chance. too little too late.
So if another OS came along that looked stunning, ran flawlessly, and offered some very cool and unique features you would pass it up?
 
Anything's possible, but I think Android got a massive boost with the Motorola Droid on Verizon, who at the time did not carry the iPhone. Today you can get an iPhone and a wide variety of Android phones on every carrier, so a new OS would have to provide a significant amount of value added over either ecosystem.
 
Anything's possible, but I think Android got a massive boost with the Motorola Droid on Verizon, who at the time did not carry the iPhone. Today you can get an iPhone and a wide variety of Android phones on every carrier, so a new OS would have to provide a significant amount of value added over either ecosystem.

That's actually a pretty critical insight. The sheer volume of quality apps for IOS and Android is actually kind of another barrier to entry.

MS is the only one I can see with a chance to make it a 3-horse race, because it's MS (which is also why they might very well fail) and the massive PC installed base.
 
So if another OS came along that looked stunning, ran flawlessly, and offered some very cool and unique features you would pass it up?

It would have to come with a good chunk of useful apps for me to even consider it. I use my phone for specific tasks it's able to perform thanks to the apps that are available on it. Sure any phone can have Internet on it, have a camera, browser and email. But can it be used as remote desktop/webcam access? How about free wifi hot spot or a house key? Or free movie, music streamer? Infinite assortment of books available without any cost? A flashlight, wallet, gps navigation. A weather alert system, a police scanner, a personal tracking device? I really don't care what something looks like as long as it can do what I need. Example: android entering apple dominated market. Apple looked cooler but android could do so much more.

The point I was trying to make is those entering this market like Ubuntu, Firefox, blackberry and others have to bat 1000 to even be considered a player and I don't think any of them have the finances to accomplish it.
 
Personally, I will keeping an eye on Mozilla's and Samsung's developments. First I will be curious if Samsung will no longer support Android at some point. Which would be interesting to say the least. They are by far the most popular Android devices currently, and I believe the most popular device as a whole. In this case, I would say "if it aint broke, don't fix it". But we'll see what they plan to do soon enough. My thoughts with the Mozilla OS would be security/encryption/anonymity. Their browser is already the most TOR integrated, if the phones are as secure and anonymous, they will appeal to businesses and to the privacy concerned crowds. Considering the popularity of the encrypted type apps (gibberbot, AndIRC, TOR, etc.) and similar, I could see it being successful quickly. The curious thing will be their app format. Since Google is open source, would these new MFRs be able to make their OS compatible with Android apps? If so, I would say any of the new OS developers have a chance to survive the market, the battle will not be so uphill
 
I do see this being viable because of the increasing power of mobile processors, gpus, etc. I feel like we're still not getting a lot of functionality that should be possible as far as interfaces for devices because either the software and hardware can't handle it or because it's difficult to script for. If someone comes along with a system that utilizes the power available in current devices and in term makes the programming easier to pick up and import framework from more traditional computer programming we could see some major leaps forward.

If someone comes to the market with a system that really allows the variety of customization and input available to Windows/Linux users to occur on mobile devices, then it could be the start of an entirely new ballgame. No more being stuck with a grid layout, no more fixed homescreen size, or even having to slide between homescreens. There are a lot of ways that what we have access to now can be improved and I'm not certain that any amount of tweaking will make any of the current mobile OSes capable of it in the near future.

Might be time for something new before too long.
 
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