Will anyone ever be able to break Android and iOS’s stranglehold on the mobile landscape? Last year we saw signs that ‘someone’ might just be able to threaten them, with the first demonstrations of phones running Firefox OS, Tizen and Ubuntu Touch. But just when we were hoping that 2014 might be the breakthrough year, those hopes have quickly been dashed.
The bad news is that neither Ubuntu Touch nor Tizen are likely to make much of an impact this year. Ubuntu backer Canonical admitted earlier this week that it’s platform is unlikely to appear on a major handset until 2015 at the earliest, while Japan’s number one carrier NTT DoCoMo said today that it’s shelving plans to launch phones running Tizen.
Ubuntu Touch is probably the most intriguing concept behind a mobile OS so far. Essentially just a watered down version of the full desktop Ubuntu OS, Touch has been designed with convergence in mind. On phones and tablets it looks gorgeous, but plug it into a keyboard and monitor and suddenly it becomes a full-blown desktop OS that’s identical to the regular Ubuntu.
Obviously the concept has lots of potential, but Canonical has struggled to deliver it so far. That’s not for a lack of ambition – as evidenced by the beautiful Ubuntu Edge concept phone that it tried to crowdfund on Indiegogo last year. Unfortunately for the company, it fell well short of its $32 million goal and was unable to go ahead and actually build the thing.
There was better news late last month when Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth said that it had inked a deal with a “major” manufacturer to begin shipping high-end Ubuntu Touch phones sometime in 2014. “We are now pretty much at the board level on four household brands,” said Shuttleworth at the time.
But now, it looks as if that’s unlikely to happen. This week, in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon said that 2014 was an unrealistic goal for the company’s mobile hopes:
“Longer-term we would love to see the major OEMs [manufacturers]/carriers shipping Ubuntu handsets. This is a long road though with many components, and I would be surprised if we see anything like this before 2015. When the major OEMs/Carriers ship, this is when many of the ISVs [app developers] will be on-board too.”
There is a glimmer of hope for Ubuntu fans though – Bacon did say that some smaller brands might be tempted to give Ubuntu Touch a look this year, though he refused to say which ones.
Tizen hopes trashed
With heavy backers including Samsung and Intel, the Tizen mobile OS was seen as one of the best bets to eventually emerge as a serious rival to Android. Borne of two earlier Mobile OS’s that never made it past the drawing board – MeeGo and LiMo – the project was later merged with Samsung’s reasonably successful Bada OS for low end phones.
The signs last year were mostly positive – we saw the first displays on show at the Mobile World Congress, while NTT DoCoMo announced that it would release its first Tizen phones sometime in 2014.
Sadly though, that’s no longer the case. NTT DoCoMo today performed a sharp about-turn, saying that it would shelve plans to launch Tizen phones for the forseeable future, blaming a lack of growth in Japan’s smartphone market, according to The Wall Street Journal. Simply put, the carrier believes that there’s little room in the market for a third OS, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
This is bad news for Samsung, which has invested heavily in Tizen and is said to be desperate to reduce its reliance on Android. The company remains by far and away the most dominant Android phone manufacturer, but it was hoping that Tizen would give it some leverage against Google, which places strict requirements on OEMs to use its software for free.
Who else is in the race?
We won’t be seeing any great challenge arise from Ubuntu Touch or Tizen this year, but if you really hate Android and iOS there’s still a glimmer of hope.
Last year saw the launch of the low-end Firefox OS in nine countries, and the platform has received the enthusiastic backing of dozens of carriers, though we’re yet to see how well devices running it are selling. More recently (today in fact) there was news that the Chinese government is developing its very own mobile OS. Engadget reports that the OS will go by the name of COS, which stands for “China Operating System”, although it has to be said that the software looks very much like an Android rip-off.
“Ironically, all the COS variants — in the form of phones, tablets, PCs and set-top boxes — shown in the promo video after the break are very Android-like, and some of those features, like multitasking, content streaming and remote desktop, are nothing new,” stated Engadget.
Then of course, don’t forget there’s always Windows Phone, Microsoft’s venerable mobile OS that’s slowly but surely growing its own market share – most especially in Latin America, where it recently overtook Apple to become the second most popular platform behind Android.