Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) have cornered the mobile operating system market, but let's not assume that it's just BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) fighting to be the distant third place finisher.
The Wall Street Journal's "Next In Tech" column went over the many platforms shooting for the bronze medal.
- Leading handset makers Huawei, LG, and ZTE are embracing Mozilla's Firefox OS as an open-source alternative to Android with phones available through many major carriers later this year.
- Tizen -- the platform developed by Samsung and Intel -- will have its first smartphone unveiled next quarter. Don't underestimate Tizen. Samsung is the world's largest smartphone maker, and Intel is still a potent tastemaker in tech.
- Remember Ubuntu, the Linux-based operating system that powered some cheap netbooks? Well, London's Canonical plans to introduce a smartphone operating system based on Ubuntu early next year.
The odds are long for all of these players. The main reason why consumers have flocked to Google's Android and Apple's iOS is because they have the developer app support that smaller platforms lack. Microsoft has had to pay up to get some popular apps on its platform, and there are still some glaring omissions in the BlackBerry 10 camp. If Microsoft and BlackBerry have struggled to get developers of hot applications to port their programs over, why would Firefox, Tizen, or Ubuntu fare any better?
However, it's also quite possible that one of these three platforms catches on at the expense of market-leading Android.
Developers don't want a fragmented market. They want to succeed by supporting as few operating systems as possible. Carriers don't care, though nobody really wants there to be a glut of platforms if it results in the confusion turning off less-seasoned smartphone owners.
In the end, this market's about to heat up. Microsoft may have thought that it had third place locked up when it spent billions to get Windows Phone out there last year. BlackBerry probably thought that it was raising the bar when it unveiled BlackBerry 10 in January.
Things are never that easy.