Towards the end of 2012, the tech industry heard rumblings of various open source mobile operating systems poking their heads through the cracks left by Android and iOS. With such large proportions of the 2012 smartphone market occupied by those two operating systems, it seems difficult to imagine any other OS penetrating the scene. But three such systems caught industry eyes at the turn of the year, and they hold realistic promise to make headway in 2013.
Ubuntu is a Linux-based operating system from U.K. software company Canonical. Available until now just as a desktop OS, Ubuntu was announced earlier in January as an open-source system for mobile devices. Open-source platforms enable developers to write applications more easily. It bears mentioning that the core idea behind open-source development is one of free and easy access to source code, making for a more customizable platform. (This is in contrast to a closed source system, like Apple’s iOS, in which the proprietary software team decides to whom to provide its code and limits what is done to it.)
There are no mobile manufacturers using Ubuntu yet, but the company is confident of the success of the OS in mobile. With a similar history, Mozilla has released its open-source browser Firefox for mobile — with the advantage of launching with a telecom provider on board already. The company is making Firefox available on two 3G phones for developers only at the moment, but Mozilla plans to expand the release to target lower-end smartphone users. Spanish telecom provider, Telefonica, is at the ready.
Last but not least is Tizen, an open-source system from Samsung and Intel, developed from the guts of the abandoned MeeGo mobile operating system. (Finland-based Jolla also revealed it will spin an OS off of MeeGo: Sailfish.) Tizen will headline under Samsung, giving it a huge amount of leverage: Samsung is the leading global smartphone provider. As Samsung aims to lessen its dependence on Google’s Android – the dominant OS of its smartphone offerings – Tizen will serve as a solid second offering. The OS also gives Intel a leg up into the mobile market, where it needs to gain ground in to stay alive in the wake of the decline of the PC.
All of these new mobile operating systems will have a healthy time competing with each other, but whether they will make a dent in the global smartphone market is impossible to predict. The ease of development provided by all of these open source systems could inspire quick adoption as software developers jump on board and HTML5 makes its way into global usage — but they could just as easily find themselves crushed by the juggernauts of Google and Apple.