Coming: More Open Source Phones Than You Can Shake a Stick At
All the way back in 2010, I wrote a post called "Is It Too Late for an Open Source Challenge to Android?" The thrust of the post was that Google's open source mobile operating system had achieved enormous success in a very short amount of time, and that the smartphone market was growing so rapidly that there might be room for another mobile operating system based on an open source platform.
With 2013 just beginning, we're about to see an onslaught of phones positioned around this concept, including Ubuntu phones, Mozilla phones and Tizen Linux phones.
Canonical grabbed headlines last week with its discussion of plans for Ubuntu for Phones. There are already some good posts going up on what to expect from these phones.
“We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions. Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop, with customers in a wide range of sectors focused on security, cost and manageability” said Canonical CEO Jane Silber, in a statement. “We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS, web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation.”
Meanwhile, there are reports that Samsung confirmed plans to ship new Linux-based mobile devices based on the Tizen Linux platform later this year. Tizen is a mobile OS that was launched by the Linux Foundation and the LiMo Foundation in late 2011. It hasn't been talked about much in recent days but surely will be with one of the biggest players in smartphones backing it.
And, of course, Mozilla's plans for phones based on its open Firefox OS platform are rapidly taking shape. Mozilla is very focused on open web standards for Firefox OS, and its hardware partners will be focusing on phones for emerging markets.
The real question is how welcome these new open mobile platforms will be in the smartphone market. It's likely that, just as many people have favored Android because it's open, Mozilla, Canonical, the folks behind Tizen and Samsung can rally some FOSS fans behind new mobile platforms.
However, mobile operating systems require healthy app ecosystems to flourish, and these new platforms will be at a disadvantage from that perspective compared to Apple's iOS and Android. It is clear, though, that we'll see some serious competition in open source phones very shortly.