For Mobile OSes, Two’s Company, Three’s Better

Carl Weinschenk

Thomas Gryta of Dow Jones Newswires suggests in a story posted at Total Telecom that 2013 will be the year of whether or not a third major mobile operating system will emerge or if the Android/iOS duo will dominate, with niche players on the side.

Clearly, a vast number of people think that it will be a good thing if a third player – perhaps a rejuvenated BlackBerry or Windows Phone – gains traction. This is how Gryta puts it:

Wireless carriers and handset makers generally want at least one additional so-called ecosystem to survive. Having another option spreads the risk of overdependence on Android as an alternative to Apple; carriers hope that having extra options will lower prices and subsidies that they pay for consumers to buy smartphones.

The reality is that the dominance by Android and iOS really means that there is only one big OS for the majority of devices, since iOS is Apple-only. For that reason, a third player is almost a necessity.

The good news is that the list of wannabees for the third spot is fairly deep. It includes BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone and at least a couple of new entrants. Signs early this year for BlackBerry are not good. It has delayed the release of BlackBerry 10 until sometime later in this quarter and therefore missed last year’s holiday season. This did nothing to overcome the sense of malaise within which the OS long has been enveloped. The jury still is out on Windows Phone.

Like unheralded rookies who come to spring training hoping to make the team, the three fledglings are Tizen, Mozilla’s Firefox OS and Canonical’s Ubuntu Mobile. There is a lot of positioning going on in the sector. Readwrite’s Matt Asay suggests that Microsoft would be wise to use the Firefox OS, while Seeking Alpha’s Bill Shamblin explained why Tizen -- which is backed by increasingly influential Samsung, among other companies -- is bad news for BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Meanwhile, Gizmodo offers a story about Ubuntu’s Mobile that includes a video of what an early version looks like that was recorded at CES.

The desire for a third player is deep. Indeed, one of the rumors this week was that Facebook’s announcement on Jan. 15 -- which turned out to be related to search -- would be the unveiling of a Facebook operating system. Such rumors only pop up when it is something that at least a significant number of people want to see happen.

The politics of this will be very complex. For instance, why would Microsoft go with the Firefox OS instead of its own Windows Phone OS? The first question, however, is a simpler one: Is there room for a third major operating system, or will all the players not named Android or iOS be incremental players?



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