Who will be the third player in the smartphone OS battle?
Posted by Andrew Fernandez, Lead Web Developer at ORM on 05/03/2013
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With Mobile World Congress behind us, articles on the main new trends are taking the web by storm. We talked about what we saw in Barcelona in some recent posts you can find here but now we're going to be a bit more specific and concentrate on one of the topics that caught our attention: the third player in the smartphone OS game.
Let’s start with an overview: in the UK in 2012, there were 83 million mobile phone subscribers. With a population of 62 million, this represents a market penetration of 130%, which could seem like there isn’t much room to add new users. The interesting thing is that 47 million of those 83 million connections are still feature phones, a category whose numbers are dropping fast as people are inevitably moving towards smartphones. The latest stats published by CNET confirm that in 2013 smartphones will outsell feature phones for the first time bringing the date of their demise closer and closer.
So with smartphone adoption set to rise, what devices will people be buying? Or much more importantly, what OS will people be using on their phones?
As of January 2013, iOS and Android devices accounted for a staggering 92% of all worldwide shipments. But whilst Apple and Google dominate the market, there are a few other companies vying to be potential alternatives to this duopoly.
It’s time to look at the major contenders one by one:
Microsoft looks to be the most credible player with their Windows Phone 8 platform. The latest Nokia Lumia smartphones ship with Windows 8 and the fact that they are getting great reviews will definitely help. With it's clean and contemporary user interface the windows phone 8 user interface comes as a breath of fresh air and offers customers a uniquely different mobile experience away from the brightly coloured array of icons and skeuomorphic design language used in iOS and Android interfaces. Offering a joined up experience across mobile and desktop, Microsoft also have the size and resources to stay in the game for the long haul.
BB10 is the latest offering from phone makers BlackBerry. While still a major player in the emerging markets, the Canadian company lost its leader position in Europe and North America and was in need of a big change. Scrapping their outdated BB OS7, they have opted for a complete reboot, building an OS from the ground up that closely resembles iOS or Android with the addition of a really sleek swipe-based interface and some out-of-the-box security options that will be the joy of corporate companies. The specs are really good, let's hope this new OS offers enough to draw users away from the more established players.
Mozilla, the makers of popular browser Firefox have entered the smartphone OS market with Firefox OS. Mozilla are big proponents of open standards, hence their OS will not support native apps, but only HTML5 web apps. It is unlikely that we will see many devices in the UK running this OS, but it could be huge in the developing world, where cheap handsets + free, open OS could nail exactly what customers are after. Of course, it does beg the question of why not go Android…
Canonical is the global software maker that supports the Ubuntu desktop OS. With the release of their own mobile OS, they are seeking to appeal to the whole range of smartphone users. On the low end side, Ubuntu runs on very low spec devices, so this could be an ideal OS for suppliers of cheap handsets. On the high end side, Ubuntu is the preferred desktop and server OS choice of millions of developers worldwide, so this could be the perfect partner OS for their mobile devices.
Tizen is a new open source OS based on Linux. Heard it all before? Well, Tizen happens to be backed by none other than Samsung and Intel. Samsung have promised to release a number of Tizen based smartphones this year, so it could be the first move in Samsung distancing itself from Android and running its own OS to follow the steps of the Cupertino giant in building its own ecosystem.
On the face of it, the UK won’t be seeing much of Firefox or Ubuntu, as these may be aimed more at developing markets. We may see Tizen released on Samsung phones sometime in 2013 - 2014, but whether it can compete with Android is another story. As for Blackberry and Windows 8, it seems that this year these two will be battling it out to see who can capture most of the tiny market share left by Apple and Google.
Have you got a favourite contender? If so we would like to hear from you...