A recent report by IDC stated that a group of open-source mobile operating systems are due to launch this year, but with competition already so heated among the current players -- and Android sweeping the globe -- is there really room for smaller players?
At least not right now.
No room in the inn
This past quarter, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android made up about 75% of smartphone OS shipments, while Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS took just over 17% -- something the iPhone maker should be at least a little nervous about. Combining Apple and Android market share shows that the two are truly in a league of their own, with a staggering 92% of smartphone OS market share by shipments.
There are other players in mobile OS, and we'll get to them in a minute, but for now let's look at the scenario of having a new mobile OS come up against Android and Apple.
Two of most talked-about potential mobile OS challengers are Tizen and Mozilla. Samsung is spearheading Tizen, and many believe it's the company's way of making an escape from Android. Let's assume for a minute that Tizen is an amazing OS and has massive potential to free Samsung from Google's grip. Even if that scenario were true, Samsung is likely to tiptoe away from Android -- and not run -- because Android has been the foundation of Samsung's mobile success so far.
When Samsung launches a Tizen phone later this year, Samsung won't expect all of its customers to leave Android and switch to the new OS. Instead, the company will be testing the waters to see how the market responds. Abandoning Android anytime soon would be a self-inflicted wound to the South Korean company, and Samsung is simply too smart to do that.
Another mobile OS option that's about to hit the scene is Mozilla's mobile OS. The famed Firefox browser maker is expected to release the OS in a handful of markets this summer, and in the U.K. and U.S. next year. About half a billion people use Firefox, so the company definitely knows how to create products people want.
But despite its influence, and its seemingly well-received initial launch among developers, Mozilla will have a hard time making any significant gains against Android and iOS, even if it succeeds in its target emerging markets. There's already a plethora of Android devices at every price point in emerging markets, which could squeeze Mozilla out before it even gets started. A more likely scenario for Mozilla would be for it to be bought out for its technology. Samsung is already working with Mozilla on a mobile browser, which leaves the door open to future endeavors with the company.
The Tizen and Mozilla OSes, as great as they could be, are entering a market with ridiculously fast product cycles, massive marketing efforts, and polarizing mind share. Consider Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) recent marketing attempts to convince smartphone users that there's actually another choice besides the iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy line. The commercials show die-hard Apple and Samsung users fighting it out while two Windows Phone users peacefully wonder what the scuffle is all about.
In the world of mobile OS, not even Nokia and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have been safe. The two missed the smartphone boat years ago and are currently playing catch-up together. Fortunately for them, Windows Phone took the No. 3 spot in mobile OS shipments this past quarter.
That leaves just one smaller player that newbie mobile operating systems could possibly combat -- BlackBerry (NYSE:BB). Despite losing its No. 3 spot to Windows Phone, the company still shipped 1 million devices running its new BB10 OS in Q1 2013. Newcomers trying to enter the mobile market may look at BlackBerry as an easy target, but its latest shipment numbers show that new players are going to have to put up a good fight.
That's not to say that consumers won't eventually warm to a new OS, but it doesn't seem likely right now. Take Facebook's recent launch of Facebook Home as an example. The Home overlay isn't an operating system, per se, but it is an alternative way to interact with a smartphone that's not the same experience as Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or BB10. So far, the new system hasn't proved very successful. The HTC First, which launched with Facebook Home preloaded on the device, is already being discontinued just one month after launching. Facebook Home's competition right now is just Android (since you can't load Home on iOS), and it appears even one OS competitor is enough.
Other mobile operating systems will launch this year, and I hope all of them offer something we don't see on current devices. More mobile players could bring better innovations and more choices for consumers. We'll have to wait and see how these operating systems are received later this year, but I just don't see any new OS claiming the No. 3 or even No. 4 spot, let alone making any real gains that change the mobile landscape.