Tie, tee or tiz? Operating systems also-rans seek to outsmart Google, Apple

Mon Feb 24, 2014 1:13am EST
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By Jeremy Wagstaff

Feb 24 (Reuters) - You may have heard of the operating system Tizen (you may even know how to pronounce it: tie-zen, not tee-zen or tiz-zen). But the chances of it running your smartphone are slim, about the same as having had one of its predecessors or rivals: Maemo, Moblin, MeeGo, Bada, Ubuntu, Sailfish or Firefox.

That's not for want of trying. Every Mobile World Congress in the past four years has featured an announcement about one of these operating systems (OS). This year is no different, as handset makers, carriers and chipmakers try to break the stranglehold that Google Inc and Apple Inc have on the software that runs the world's mobile phones.

But for many this war, at least for now, is already lost.

Instead, attention is shifting to winning a share of a potentially bigger pie: the software that runs your car, camera, fridge, smartwatch or TV. The thinking here is that if web-based operating systems like Firefox or Tizen can gain a foothold in those internet-connected devices, they could then gain broader acceptance among users and app developers on mobile, too.

"If the Firefox OS can succeed in the TV market, it will mean that many developers contribute either content or apps," says William Liang, Taiwan-based senior director at contract manufacturer Foxconn, which works closely with developers of the Firefox Mobile OS. "Then probably the mobile market will also accept a web-based OS." Liang stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The scale of the challenge of taking on the existing mobile duopoly is daunting.

Google's Android and Apple's iOS operating systems account for more than 95 percent of smartphone sales worldwide last year, according to Strategy Analytics, up from about 88 percent in 2012. Strip away Microsoft Corp's paltry slither, and other OS' share of the pie fell to 2 percent last year from 9 percent. In October-December, it fell to below 1 percent.

A paper released by the mobile industry's GSM Association ahead of this week's congress in Barcelona noted that at least 36 telecoms operators had pledged support for one of the four open source challengers - Firefox, Ubuntu, Tizen and Sailfish.   Continued...