Smaller Mobile OSes Look Beyond the Smartphone

Carl Weinschenk
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Migrating from Android to iOS or iOS to Android

In the mobile sector, there are two dominant operating systems, a second line comprised of well-known platforms vying to be the third choice, and a group of unknowns that are angling for a smaller share of the pie.

The top two, of course, are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The next tier includes BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. The third tier is Tizen, Jolla’s Sailfish, Mozilla’s Firefox OS and Canonical’s Ubuntu.

It’s a bit complex, since all the OSes aren’t just aimed at phones and tablets. A variety of gadgets from televisions to the smallest sensors and other devices under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella need some intelligence to their jobs. In essence, just because an OS doesn’t land on a mobile device doesn’t mean it is out of the picture completely.


The first week of January brings the CES to Las Vegas, which also brings some news about a few lesser-known OSes.

Canonical originally planned to release a phone based on the Ubuntu OS during 2014. In mid-December, several sites, including Linux Gizmos, reported that the release date had slipped to this year. The change was revealed on Reddit during an exchange with then Canonical Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon. He also said that no major OEMs are yet on board. The story notes that Canonical Founder Mark Shuttleworth had reported that an OEM for a high-priced phone had been signed in 2014.

Datamation said that Jolla, which is developing the Sailfish OS, raised more than $1.8 million in a crowdsourcing campaign aimed at enabling it to create a free software tablet. However, writer Bruce Byfield is wary:

More importantly, exactly how free the tablet will be has yet to be announced. As Vivaldi, Ubuntu Touch, and Raspberry Pi all found out before Jolla, ensuring that the firmware and CPU are free software is no easy task, and keeping them that way with each manufacturing run harder still. In order to get to market in a reasonable time, Jolla is already being criticized for not giving its Sailfish operating system an open source license (even though it is derived from open sources), so it might choose to be satisfied with other non-free elements. If so, the tablet may fall well short of what it could be, although, to be fair, the difficulties of bringing hardware to market might excuse such choices.

Byfield also has questions about how widely distributed it will be. Despite initial misgivings, Byfield says that the amount of cash Jolla has collected is a positive and, at this point, Sailfish does seem to be in a better position than Canonical or Mozilla.

Smartphone

Samsung, according to PC World, is using CES to introduce SUHD, a television technology that combines the SUHD re-mastering engine and Tizen-powered smart TV features. The story says that the company has unveiled three models, the JS9500, JS9000 and JS8500, in nine screen sizes that range from 48 inches to 88 inches. No release date or prices are yet available. The sets offer Tizen-powered Connect, an automatic connection to a Samsung smartphone with Bluetooth LE.

Another OS that is finding a home in television sets is from Mozilla. The Firefox OS will be used in Panasonic’s Life+Screen 4K Ultra HD and Ultra HD Smart TVs. There are four series in the line, according to the company’s press release: the CX850 Series, the CX800 Series, the CX650 Series and the CX600 Series. 

The story says that the OS has been used to upgrade the graphical user interface significantly from previous versions of the televisions. The GUI is customizable to enable bookmarking of television channels, devices, apps and Web pages. The OS uses Web APIs to increase developer flexibility and platform cohesion.

So the news from the four smaller operating systems is mixed. What is clear, though, is that at least some of their success, if they indeed find it, won’t be limited to mobile phones.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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