In Their Own Words: The Four Dark Horses for the Third Major Mobile OS Speak

    There is little doubt that the two leading mobile operating systems (OS) will continue to be Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. What still is very much up for grabs, however, is which mobile OS will grab the third spot.

    This is a vital question. Not only will the third player win a healthy slice of market share, it will play a key role in the tactical and strategic technical and marketplace battles between the two leaders.

    Most observers say that the leading candidates for this vital third spot are BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. However, there are several other candidates that shouldn’t be dismissed. They include Tizen, the mobile versions of Ubuntu, Jolla Mobile’s Sailfish and Mozilla’s Firefox OS.

    IT Business Edge, in order to provide deeper background on these four lesser-known candidates, has put together a virtual roundtable. The responses were edited for clarity and length. Mozilla did not provide the name of a spokesperson.

    IT Business Edge: What are the backstory and antecedents of your mobile operating system?

    Brian Warner, Tizen operations manager, The Linux Foundation: Tizen is a combination of a variety of open source components, which is what you find with any open source operating system. It is not a direct descendent of any particular project, but it certainly has been heavily influenced by other efforts. Some of the structure and code is derived from SLP, a Linux-based reference platform originally created by Samsung. In addition, a number of components (Connman and oFono, to name a few) are projects that are maintained by Intel, and there are design influences from MeeGo. When preparing the codebase for the initial release of Tizen, the project members incorporated what they considered to be the best design decisions and components from these other projects.

    Stefano Mosconi, chief technology officer of Jolla: Sailfish builds on top of the legacy of an open source project called MeeGo, on which active development was discontinued in 2010. MeeGo code was then inherited by the Mer project that is the core in Sailfish OS. Once developed to commercial products and use, the Sailfish OS stack will include both closed and open source components. The open source parts of Sailfish will remain there, and we are committed to upstream as much as we can. We believe that open source is the real vehicle for innovation and the whole world will benefit of it.

    Richard Collins, product manager at Canonical: Ubuntu Linux was already established as an enterprise server platform in 2004. At that time, free software was not yet a part of everyday life for most computer users. That’s why Mark Shuttleworth gathered a small team of developers from one of the most established Linux projects – Debian  – and set out to create an easy-to-use Linux desktop: Ubuntu.

    The vision for Ubuntu is part social and part economic: Free software, available free of charge to everybody on the same terms, and funded through a portfolio of services provided by Canonical.

    Canonical and the Ubuntu community have established Ubuntu’s place in desktop, server and cloud deployments. We have also invested in the design and engineering of the Unity interface, motivated by the belief that the desktop interfaces would merge with mobile, touch interfaces into a seamless personal computing platform in the future. Unity’s core elements are arranged in exactly the way we need to create coherence across a range of devices. This is why we’ve been able to develop a family of interfaces for Ubuntu, enabling it to power tablets, smartphones, desktops and TVs.

    Mozilla spokesperson: Mozilla’s mission is to promote innovation and opportunity on the Web, and increasingly, the Web is being accessed on mobile devices. The mobile landscape is fragmented, forcing consumers and developers to choose between proprietary ecosystems and stifling choice and control. Just as we opened up the desktop Web, Mozilla is seeking to open the mobile Web by advancing dozens of standards that will enable cross-platform advancements.

    The introduction of Firefox OS continues this mission. Firefox OS is not designed to create a third platform. Instead, Mozilla wants the Web to be the third alternative to the closed walls of the Apple and Google stacks. We believe the Web is the platform. This is why the Firefox OS will be truly open and available to any network operators or OEM. We don’t seek a competitive advantage for Mozilla; we seek a competitive advantage for the Web.

    Also read: HTML5 Reaches Mainstream Tipping Point

    IT Business Edge: What differentiates it from the other platforms vying to be the third after Android and iOS?

    Firefox: While we are happy that other platforms are using open standards and HTML5, we do not feel that any other goes as far as Firefox does in applying the full power and capabilities of the Web to mobile. HTML5 support on many of these other platforms is usually through an indirect hybrid tool, such as PhoneGap, unlike the much simpler Web Runtime offered by Firefox OS.

    The most important thing to realize from the outset is that we’re not introducing a new platform. We believe that the Web is the platform and with the Firefox OS, we’ve built the technologies and APIs to make the Web a rich and viable option for application developers. To date, these applications on mobile have been held back because they can’t access the device’s underlying capabilities as native apps can. Mozilla’s Firefox OS project overcomes these limitations and provides the necessary APIs to show how it is possible to run an entire device using open standards: Linux Kernel, device drivers and then the Web on top of it. This simplifies the technology and makes the integration point between the Web, the phone and apps much easier.

    With HTML5 we’re flipping the apps store model on its head, giving developers the freedom to innovate without having to ask permission. We’re providing developers with a distribution opportunity while addressing their concerns around fragmentation and resourcing.

    For consumers it’s about enabling them to buy an app once and use it everywhere they can access the Web, while providing access to local content and apps, which are highly relevant to their needs. This is not possible with vertically integrated approaches in which the hardware, software and apps come from a single vendor.

    Collins: Ubuntu is different from other operating systems on the market in a number of ways. Firstly, we have developed a single shared codebase as the primary operating system for PCs, TVs, tablets and smartphones. This means that Ubuntu is scalable from entry to very high-level phones. It also paves the way for true convergence between devices.

    Ubuntu runs well even on entry-level smartphones. It brings a stunning new interface, optimized for the Web, email, phone, messaging and media consumption. For basic smartphone users, Ubuntu is a cleaner and more beautiful phone that encourages data consumption – Web and email, together with media. At the very high end of the range Ubuntu is unique in offering a complete PC built in: Connect the phone to a screen and provide a Bluetooth keyboard, and the phone becomes a full PC with local Ubuntu and remote Windows apps. It is a perfect enterprise thin client and phone in one.

    Another key difference is the user experience and interface. Ubuntu feels cleaner and more immersive than existing smartphones. It doesn’t need a home button, and the interface for most apps is cleaner and more open, with more room for content. That’s because Ubuntu introduces several ideas to handheld interfaces. It uses every edge of the phone, giving you fast access to favorite apps, fast switching between apps, immediate access to system settings at any time, and a way to show or hide the buttons that make up an app interface or structure. Keeping those items “off the edge” leaves more room for content and makes the phone feel bigger and more spacious.

    Mosconi: The guys that have founded and are working for Jolla have a background in product creation. That means putting an OS on a real hardware and making it work. This is a tremendous advantage when designing the OS because it is the most difficult part of the story. The software architecture is designed from the ground up for mobile devices and to work on the extremely scarce resources of embedded devices. It is based on Linux Kernel, which is the most used and known microkernel in the world. And it has been built for mobile devices right from the start.

    In Sailfish, there is beautiful user interaction based on gestures that we built with Sailfish.

    Sailfish is using Qt framework that is a user interface framework optimized for mobile devices. Qt allows people to quickly write applications in QML language that also are extremely fast and performing on the device.

    Shortly put: Sailfish is built and designed from the ground up for mobile devices / embedded environments; its UI is extremely fast, beautiful and effortless to use and the UI framework is easy to use and learn and at the same time very well performing.

    Warner: The biggest difference is that two of the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers have said they’ll ship Tizen devices this year. This gives Tizen an immense amount of early momentum in the mobile phone space. In parallel, Intel is working to leverage Tizen for in-vehicle infotainment. The project also has broad industry support from operators and manufacturers through the Tizen Association.

    IT Business Edge: Why do you think it will win?

    Brian Warner, Tizen operations manager, The Linux Foundation: The mobile space is not a zero sum game with a clear winner; otherwise, there wouldn’t be conversations about second or third players.

    We believe that Tizen will do well over time because it is a collaborative development effort that decentralizes the impact of any one party in the ecosystem. Consumers will benefit as more carriers, silicon manufacturers and OEMs commit to the effort, either through Tizen code development or the Tizen Association. Ultimately this should result in richer devices and more diversification, because manufacturers can build from an existing and neutral code base while focusing on value-add instead.

    Stefano Mosconi, chief technology officer of Jolla: All in all, Sailfish will bring innovation in a stagnating market and will help mobile manufacturers to stay on the leading edge of the mobile OS development. As a smaller company, we can introduce more innovation in a shorter amount of time than anyone in the market. This is our competitive advantage.

    One great strength for the Sailfish model is its inclusivity and openness for partners. They can customize their UI to create truly unique and differentiating products.

    The Sailfish user interface has been designed with the most recent consumer needs in mind. Users are able to multitask instantly between applications. Even more, users are able to interact with the running applications directly on the home view: They can end a call or pause a song without entering the application. This multitasking feature brings usability and speed-of-use to a totally new level.

    The UI also features other innovations. These include the Pulley Menu, enabling fast and effortless interaction; at-a-glance peeks at status information; and effortless personalization of the device to match the user’s style and mood.

    Richard Collins, product manager at Canonical: There’s already an established community of people, momentum and affinity behind Ubuntu. Ubuntu is also a highly secure OS, which enterprises, financial companies and government organisations trust in more than any other OS. The phone and tablet share those same security benefits, meaning that consumers and businesses alike can be confident with their devices. Since the launches of both the developer preview builds, we’ve had excellent feedback and traction with mobile developers and see real opportunities with OEMs seeking a more cost-effective alternative OS and who want a better basis for differentiation.

    Firefox: We are primarily targeting a different set of consumers to expand the smartphone market and attract people who might otherwise opt for feature phones, because Firefox OS provides a faster, better experience on the same hardware compared with other OSes. There are more than 8 million HTML5 developers that wouldn’t need to learn any new code to develop for Firefox OS, lowering the barrier to entry for smaller, local content developers, businesses, educators and government organizations. HTML5 is especially useful for developers to leverage their apps across multiple platforms in future.

    IT Business Edge: What other comments would you like to add for an overview story about the OS?

    Warner: One of the major things we’ve seen is that Tizen is evolving rapidly for application developers. Tizen 1.0 introduced the HTML5 focus for application developers, Tizen 2.0 brought an API for native applications and Tizen 2.1 is projected to bring a number of new features later this spring.

    Mosconi: The current market is led by what we call the “spec race,” which is basically “who has it bigger has it better.” Sailfish OS aims to bring back the focus on what is important for the user: a simple but not stupid UI that still has the power of Linux underneath.

    Ubuntu: Google is now monetising a full range of Android services on which OEMs and operators are seeing very little revenue share (less than $1 per year per user on average). Unlike Google, Canonical is absolutely committed to open and transparent development. Android is an OS built to support integration for Google services, which compete with mobile operators services. Ubuntu is the most open platform in the industry — Android is not open and this is causing complaints from OEMs.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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