It appears that 2013 will be the year of the competitor. Already we’ve seen BlackBerry’s attempt with BlackBerry 10 phones. Microsoft figures to get more competitive with its Windows 8 phones this year, especially as more PC users upgrade to the newest version of the Windows OS. Yet they are not the only players gunning for a market that Android and Apple dominate. Tizen, a Linux-based mobile OS, will see releases in 2013. Today at Mobile World Congress, we learned that Mozilla plans to release the first round of Firefox OS phones this year.
Will any of them make a difference? Anyone who professes to have an answer this point is full of it. There is no way to gauge consumer reaction to device that haven’t yet been released. Even then, the market is always slow to adopt new platforms. Android, released in 2008, didn’t really gain traction until late 2009/early 2010, and didn’t come to full dominance until 2012. Who’s to say that a slow start for any of these platforms will spell its death?
Yet that won’t stop us from speculating. Here are a few ideas about the players vying for No. 3 in the mobile market.
Dinosaurs: Microsoft and BlackBerry
Like many people, I have my mobile roots in BlackBerry. My first smartphonw was a BlackBerry 8700 series, which I quickly upgraded to the 8830. From there I owned three more BlackBerry models — the 8330, the 9530, and the 9930 — while receiving review units of many more. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed by the BlackBerry 10 launch. It actually looks like a useful platform that could continue to grow.
Only it won’t.
The same goes for Windows Phone. Both have realized industry success in the past, but the market has moved on — particularly from BlackBerry. Consumers were never really the main target of BlackBerry, anyway. Enterprise has always been their bread and butter, and it’s clear that both Apple and Android have made serious enterprise inroads. Apple is already growing faster than BlackBerry for corporate clients, and it’s difficult to see that slowing down.
Microsoft might squeak by, if only because their mobile OS is directly compatible with their desktop. Since the great, great majority of PCs run Windows, and many will upgrade to Windows 8, there is a chance that some consumers will find appeal with the platform. But mass market appeal? It probably won’t happen from Microsoft, try as they might.
Mozilla: low-cost solution?
In an article titled Why Carriers Just Love Firefox OS, All Things D’s Ina Fried hits one crucially important note: “[Firefox OS] is designed to run well on low-end hardware where Android performs poorly or can’t run at all.” This could lead to a solution for carriers that seek to eliminate subsidies, in addition to those that don’t offer them to begin with.
Prepaid carriers such as MetroPCs and Cricket struggle with this concept constantly. They offer no-contract monthly service, so they can’t reasonably offer the same kind of subsidies that Verizon and AT&T offer. They don’t have that two-year guarantee. Yet they need to provide cost-effective solutions for their customers, many of whom are lower on the income scale than the average Verizon or AT&T customer.
It doesn’t end with prepaid carriers, though. T-Mobile is doing away with subsidies, moving in more of a no-contract direction. They do offer handset financing, which allows their customers to more easily afford high-end handsets. But what about those who don’t want to go in debt for a smartphone? The answer could lie with Firefox OS and the low-cost hardware that it runs on.
Tizen: potential titan?
What happens when the world’s leading smartphone manufacturer buys into a new OS? You have some potential. True, Samsung rode to dominance on Android’s fuel, but along the way it picked up credentials of its own. Could it spin those credentials into a new mobile OS? We might see the beginnings of that in 2013 with Tizen.
Over the weekend we learned that Samsung will ditch its native Bada OS in favor of Tizen, an open-source Linux-based mobile OS. True, Samsung didn’t do much to move Bada devices in the US, so why would they do the same with Tizen? For starters, Samsung has admitted that Bada wasn’t ideal for smartphones. Tizen will be more powerful, and its open source nature will lead to more rapid improvements than the proprietary Bada.
The biggest advantage, though, could be through Samsung’s sheer size. It can afford to run experiments, releasing Tizen on devices that are very similar to their existing Android devices — almost like an A/B test. If people are buying because of the Samsung brand rather than Android, perhaps Samsung could help create another competitor in the mobile OS space.