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New smartphone OSes take baby steps forward

Mikael Ricknäs | Aug. 28, 2013
Newcomers Firefox, Ubuntu, Sailfish and Tizen won't challenge Android's dominance anytime soon, but can still survive, according to analysts.

The ZTE Open will be the first Firefox OS phone for consumers as it goes on sale in Spain on Tuesday.

Four new smartphone OSes intend to challenge Apple and Google's dominant position. Mozilla's Firefox OS is the first out of the gate, but Canonical, Samsung Electronics and Intel, as well as Finnish upstart Jolla Mobile, are also getting their alternatives ready.

Phone makers and mobile operators are worried about the Android-iOS duopoly the smartphone market has evolved into. This concern has given birth to a new generation of OSes that its respective backers are hoping can make a mark.

Of the four challengers, Firefox OS is the furthest along and is already in devices on the market.

"At the moment it looks like Firefox OS is in the best position to break out from niche status because it has strong support from major mobile operators and major handset vendors like ZTE. That gives it an above average chance of success, I think," said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics.

Telefónica and Deutsche Telekom have started selling the Alcatel OneTouch Fire and ZTE Open in Spain, Colombia, Venezuela and Poland, with more countries on the way. Neither operator has divulged any sales numbers.

"It is very difficult to gauge exactly what the level of demand really is," said Geoff Blaber, director of devices and platforms at CCS Insight.

What is known is that ZTE sold 1,975 units of the Open via eBay in the U.S. and U.K. for US$79.99 and £59.99, respectively, before ending the listing. It sold out in one day in the U.S. and in two days in the U.K.

To put that number in perspective; about 2 million smartphones based on Android and 82,000 based on Windows Phone were sold to end users per day during the second quarter, according to Gartner. Android continued to dominate the smartphone sector during April to June, while Windows Phone surpassed BlackBerry to take third place.

"The challenge for Firefox OS is broadening the carrier support beyond the likes of Telefónica and Deutsche Telekom and provide a user experience that is comparable to Android. But it is in a good starting position," Blaber said.

To succeed on a bigger scale it and the other newcomers have to become popular in China and or the U.S. because of their size, according to Mawston.

While devices running Firefox OS have gone on sale, Canonical and Jolla are still working on getting smartphones based on Ubuntu and Sailfish OS in the hands of consumers.

Last week marked the end of Canonical's campaign to raise the $32 million it wanted for the production of the Edge smartphone and PC. The project raised $12.8 million, which was nowhere near the ambitious target it set, but was enough to make it the biggest fixed-target crowdfunding campaign so far, according to Canonical.


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