Jolla is prepping for the launch of its new smartphone with its new Sailfish OS. Jolla is hoping that its offering will allow it to break the Android-iPhone duopoly. And it is not the only one. CNET wrote that 2013 appears to be the year of the alternative smartphone OS, with Tizen, Ubuntu Touch, and Firefox OS throwing their hats in the ring. That may be true, and if so, 2014 is the year you will see mobile operating systems dropping dead like flies.
History shows us that there is room for two operating systems, but only two.
If you look at the history of desktop operating systems, as a guide for predicting the fate of mobile operating systems, outside of Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone, the future is bleak. Historically, the market seems to have only tolerated two operating systems. AROS, BeOS, BSD, Chrome OS, Inferno, JNode, KolibriOS, ReactOS, and a gaggle of Linux based operating systems have failed to make a significant dent. Microsoft’s Windows at one time controlled over 90% of desktop operating systems, and Apple, though having a much lower market share, remained profitable for the past fifteen years. Losses in Microsoft’s Windows market share, pretty much translate into gains for Apple’s Mac OS X.
The Android-iPhone Duopoly
If we use desktop operating system history to predict the outcome of the mobile wars, there is little room for Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10, both established players in the mobile field. Where does this leave Tizen, Firefox OS, Ubuntu OS and Jolla’s Sailfish?
Apple’s iPhone is selling more phones each year, but it is losing market share with each passing year. As growth in the smartphone market starts to depend more and more on getting feature phone owners moving over to a smartphone, Apple’s high priced offering won’t make much inroads in that market. Apple is reportedly coming out with a “cheap” iPhone to try to improve its market share.
As for Android, as the hardware capable of running Android phones become cheaper with each year, Android will become more accessible to a larger base of consumers. Eric Schmidt has talked about US$20 smartphones in the past and Android 4.3, Kye Lime Pie, is rumoured to improve performance in lower cost devices. This would close the door to new entrants even for extremely low end cost devices like the market that the Firefox OS is targeting.
Outside Android and the iPhone, you have Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10. Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10 are already “successful” third and fourth operating systems hovering somewhere at 3% of all new phones sold.
The Windows Phone 8 mobile phone market share in mobile, is as big as the combined market share of all other operating systems in the desktop arena. This is a rather modest market share when you consider everything. Microsoft has deep pockets and has been willing to spend. It had a core of Windows Mobile users who were prime targets for migration to the new operating system, the Microsoft Office trump card, and strong HTC and Nokia backing too boot.
BlackBerry also holds a market share similar in size to Windows’ market share. It has an impressive worldwide marketing campaign to push its new BlackBerry 10 platform and a base of loyal users to migrate to its new platform. Sales are below expectations.
Between these four operating systems, the mobile operating system market is already much more diverse than the desktop market has been in the past two decades. Why should we expect the mobile operating system market to become more diverse? I actually would not be surprised to see the field of four major players to be reduced to three in two years time.
No one really wants more choice.
Carriers really do not want to have to support a whole bunch of operating systems. If carriers could have their way, they would only offer one phone running one operating system. App Developers would really prefer to just develop one version of an App. Except for Samsung, with Bada, and now Tizen, manufacturers really would like to only have one smartphone operating system to build for.
Even when you go down to the consumer level, the vast majority really do not want each phone to be a new learning experience. Those unhappy with Android go to iOS, and vice versa. Actually, unhappy Android users can try other Android phones from different manufacturers, as different versions of Android offer different experiences. The group of consumers that does not like Android AND the iPhone, is probably rather small. So where will the demand for the host of new mobile operating systems come from?
Other operating systems, will have to rely more on just being different. Anyone who wants to break the Android-iPhone duopoly will have to develop new hardware which needs new software. Until then, Android and the iPhone will rule.
If the first question on your mind when you started this article is “What is Jolla?”, that really pretty much captures everything in a nutshell. Jolla and its Sailfish will be of interest to the tech community, who will extol its benefits. Some of us will be reading articles about it with interest as we watch the new offering sail into the sunset. The rest of the world will not even know it ever existed.