Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone; browse through the news section of any mobile tech blog and you’ll see these names every day. They’re the biggest in the smartphone world and some of them are continuing to grow, developing new features to push out to their millions upon millions of users.
We took a look at how the big players are doing elsewhere, but now it’s time to focus on the smaller fish in the pond. Read on to find out how a number of minor smartphone platforms are emerging, what they are, who they’re by, and how they could eventually challenge the big players in the industry.
An open-source platform built upon the Linux software kernel (something that will crop up several times on this list). With backing from Intel it is likely that Tizen will be developed to work with the firm’s processors, furthering the moves that it has already made into the smartphone industry with Motorola’s RAZR i last year.
Samsung’s earlier proprietary phone platform, Bada, has been folded into the Tizen project and the two platforms share a software development kit (SDK) making it easy to move apps that were created for Bada over to the new OS.
In developing Tizen, Samsung could well be hinting that it is looking at moving away from Android in the future. With Google taking further control of its OS (having purchased Motorola), the Korean firm may worry about not having control over the software that runs on its most successful devices.
Tizen could signal the Korean firm setting itself up with an in-house OS that could then be further worked on for use on a wider range of handsets.
Samsung has said that it is planning on introducing one or two Tizen smartphones, although no further details were given about what those devices will be.
However, common thought points towards Tizen’s initial iterations being aimed at budget handsets, especially since Bada has been swallowed up by the project.
It is also likely is that Tizen devices will be limited to Eastern markets at first, with Japan’s NTT DoCoMo network said to be signed-up to carry handsets running the platform. Bada didn’t see any sort of launch in the US market, so if Samsung sticks to these tactics the roll-out will be very gradual.
Samsung has said that it will introduce its first Tizen device before the end of 2013 but we expect the launch to be gradual. A big push from the manufacturer is not anticipated for some time.
Based on work already carried out by Nokia for its MeeGo platform, Sailfish takes its visual hints from the manufacturer’s earlier devices and bears a passing resemblance to the later versions of Symbian.
Nokia abandoned the development of MeeGo in favour of Windows Phone following Stephen Elop’s famous ‘burning platform’ memo, and Jolla has picked up where Elop’s firm left off.
Like Tizen, Sailfish is based upon the Linux software kernel, but features a more gesture-based interface controlled by swiping.
The OS also features an innovative take on multi-tasking which allows open apps to be pinned to the homescreen in a similar way to what we have seen from the upcoming BB10.
Sailfish also has an interesting system called ‘Ambience’ which changes the user interface’s colours to match whatever image the user chooses as a desktop background.
Staying local, Finnish network DNA is reported to have agreed to carry phones running the new OS. Ambitiously, Jolla is said to be planning to introduce its own brand of smarthones to carry Sailfish, as well as offering the platform to other manufacturers.
The press got a look at the progress made with the new platform at a demonstration event last November but so far there have been no details about when it will begin to roll-out to the public.
Created by Canonical, a software development company which specialises in open-source, free programs and operating systems.
Ubuntu is a mobile version of the successful, Linux-based desktop platform. In use on over 20 million PCs, Ubuntu is known as a more user-friendly adaptation of the Linux software, which can sometimes be viewed as unapproachable to anyone other than the most technically minded.
Having been developed from a desktop platform, Ubuntu is able to work closely with its partner software on PCs and will even appear as a regular computer desktop if used with a docking device and external display.
Similar to iOS, Ubuntu will be backed up by its own cloud-based storage and syncing service, called Ubuntu One. This close relationship with the PC-based platform will help Ubuntu to work as part of a wider ecosystem, although the lack of mainstream support for Linux systems could limit the growth of this idea.
A download of the Ubuntu software is set to be made available for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset. However, this appears to be an independent project that is unlikely to be endorsed by Samsung.
The software download is scheduled for either the end of January or start of February. However, no further details of handsets that will run it have been released by its developers.
Firefox is being developed by the Mozilla Foundation, makers of the well-known Firefox desktop browser.
On desktop computers, the Firefox browser has always had a dedicated commitment to an open-source ethic and this is something that is continuing through to its mobile OS.
The emphasis is said to be on HTML5, the new programming language becoming more and more popular across the web and mobile. While HTML5 has a reputation for working poorly on devices without powerful processors and over slow wireless connections, Mozilla is aiming to improve the way it operates.
This is because Firefox is likely to emerge first on budget handset, taking on Android at the low end of the smartphone market. HTML5-based software will need to be streamlined to work well on low-powered handsets but it could make the job of developing apps for the platform much easier for third-party developers.
The overall philosophy of Mozilla as an organisation revolves around open-source software and an ethos involving power being given to the end users of a product. If Firefox takes off then it could prove to be one of the most disruptive platforms of all.
Firefox has been demonstrated on Samsung Galaxy S II devices and is said to also be compatible with Nexus handsets. ZTE has signed-up with Mozilla and is reported to be readying a Firefox handset for launch in the European market.
The ZTE handset could launch by the end of this year, whilst a simulator version of the Firefox mobile software is currently available as a plug-in for the Firefox desktop browser.
So do the big names have anything to be worried about? While massive, well-backed launches of any of these platforms appear to be some time off there are certainly features amongst them which could worry the likes of Google and Apple.
Tizen looks the most promising since it has the backing of the world’s largest phone manufacturer and could get a big push in the future. If Samsung does choose to move away from Android it could well be Tizen that it turns to at a later date.
However, with the dominance that Android and iOS have on the smartphone market there may not be any massive challenge to them yet.
Where things could get interesting is in the third-place battle, likely to be fought between Windows Phone and BlackBerry over the coming months. If a new, well-designed OS emerges with sufficient backing then Microsoft and RIM could well find themselves looking over their shoulders before long.