The mobile OS market is currently dominated by two main players: Apple’s iOS and the Open Handset Alliance’s Android (did you know that technically it’s not a Google-only show?). Also, there’s Microsoft lurking in corner somewhere with their Windows Phone 8. But did you know that there’s an entire array of alternatives either available or up-and-coming who hope to join the fight over the next year or two? Let’s take a look at who else is hoping to join the party while start cashing in on your addiction to apps and controlling your mobile experience:
The company-formerly-known-as-Research-In-Motion is hoping to cash in on their few remaining corporate friends and maybe even entice some of those who abandoned ship over the years to come back aboard. A new user interface, a developer-friendly app-development process and enterprise-class security infrastructure still scattered around the world offer promises of a refreshed mobile experience. Heck, I even went ahead and bought some stock, even though I have no intention of buying a device, but hoping to see a bit of a resurgence. Long story short, given their former pedigree in mobile, it wouldn’t surprise me if BB10 overtakes Windows Phone 8 by middle of next year, though I don’t see it unseating one of the top two any time soon (if ever).
A crew made up of frustrated ex-Nokia development and product guys, Jolla (pronounced yoh-la) is a company that believes Nokia struck gold with their N9′s Swipe-based MeeGo experience. They forked MeeGo’s code in 2011, and started courting hardware manufacturers. Industry trends suggest they’re onto something, at least in terms of interface experiences: BB10 features heavy swipe-based interactions, and both Apple and Android developer guidelines heavily encourage swipe-based interfaces. However, without the brand recognition, their mantra of being a truly open, alternative ecosystem may fall upon deaf ears. Except, possibly in China, which is their first target market.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS
Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch
Canonical is a company that cannot seem to make money. The primary curator and development effort behind the popular alternative desktop OS, Ubuntu, has decided to go mobile. Following the now-popular strategy of merging desktop and mobile operating systems, Canonical is claiming that Ubuntu Touch (for phone and tablet) is not so much a new operating system, but simply a new way of experiencing the current desktop OS, via their Unity project. Though a target market is not part of their core message (they’ve got iOS and Android in their sights), Ubuntu has more mind share in places such as India and China than in the Western markets. No matter how they sell, if Canonical cannot manage to make a buck with this effort, I don’t see it remaining a corporation for much longer.
KDE’s Plasma Active
Not really targeting any mass-market, Plasma Active is instead the effort of the KDE community to port their much-loved desktop environment to mobile devices. Though the group claims smartphone compatibility, I’m not convinced Plasma Active could actually dial a phone number. Having engaged with their Netbook variant in the past, I can personally attest to KDE’s flexibility and nice OS features such as Nepomuk, but from a mobile OS standpoint, I don’t expect to be seeing this on phones anytime soon, not even in China.
Linux Foundation’s Tizen
Tizen is no tease, and is in fact the effort of the increasingly-present Linux Foundation. This other phoenix born out of the ashes of the failed MeeGo experiment (along with Sailfish), Tizen is staying true to the core goals of MeeGo: to provide a new mobile OS intended from day one to accommodate all “mobile” form factors including smartphones, netbooks, tablets, TVs and in-vehicle entertainment system. Their strategy is similar to that of Canonical’s Ubuntu Unity project minus the doubletalk, but also minus the marketing; I couldn’t tell your their target market even if I wanted to.
These are just some of the up and coming mobile OSes. It will be interesting to see if companies such as Microsoft and Blackberry are able to regain lost ground, or if any of the new brands are able to break into the Western market at all. When Apple broke the existing smartphone mold in 2007, Android was able to capitalize on the upset and build brand identity while Nokia’s Symbian, RIM’s Blackberry and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile all became obsolete. Companies with strong other-industry brand image, such as Mozilla and Canonical, will have a hard time breaking into the established market.
Which is why it’s not so crazy to be targeting emerging markets in Africa and Asia. For example, Mozilla has not set Android or iOS in my sights. Both require powerful hardware, and have little intention of catering to the masses globally. Instead, Mozilla intends to build a suitable, modern replacement for outgoing Symbian/S60/S40 phones and feature-phone OSes still in the market. This makes their solution enticing to both consumers as well as hardware OEM such as LG and HTC who might rather profit on hardware in low-cost markets like like Africa and Asia and not want to worry about software.
No matter the outcome, the net result of this competition will only be positive. With so many competing projects working on solving the same problem (efficient mobile experiences), we’ll develop the talent necessary to drive the mobile industry for years to come and insure innovative thinkers also have the skills and resources necessary to make the future of mobile possible.