Android and iOS so overwhelmingly dominate the mobile operating system market that analysts have suggested there's no room for even a third player. Microsoft and Research In Motion will have to fight over the 2 percent of market-share scraps that fall from the tables of Google and Apple, analysts with Global Equities Research suggested in a September 2012 report.
However, there's a push under way to change that and bring more mobile OS options into the mainstream.
Samsung will this year begin selling smartphones running Tizen, the Intel-backed, Linux-based operating system that has roots in the Nokia-backed MeeGo OS. Intel and Nokia had worked together on MeeGo before Nokia turned its attention to Windows Phone, and in January 2012 a Samsung executive at the Consumer Electronics Show told Forbes that an effort was under way to merge Intel's homegrown Bada OS with Tizen.
Nearly a year later, Samsung has confirmed that it plans to "release new, competitive Tizen devices within this year and will keep expanding the lineup depending on market conditions," Bloomberg reported Jan. 3.
A market of Tizen-running devices will help Samsung lessen its reliance on Google, whose Android OS runs on Samsung's highly successful Galaxy line of devices. It will also help Intel grab a bigger role in the mobile market. While Intel's processors dominate the PC space, competitor ARM Holdings is the brand to beat in smartphones, and Intel has been hustling to find a way to transition its business to more mobile devices as consumer tastes have moved in that direction.
Samsung is expected to release the first Tizen-based smartphone through Japan-based carrier NTT Docomo, the Bloomberg report added, citing Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.
On Jan. 3, U.K.-based Canonical announced plans to bring its Linux-based Ubuntu OS to smartphones. The company's greater agenda is for Ubuntu to be the single OS that consumers use across phones, PCs and televisions.
"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," Canonical CEO Jan Silber said in a statement.
Ubuntu is already the most widely used Linux enterprise desktop OS, currently running on 20 million PCs and expected to be on 10 percent of new laptops and desktops that ship in 2014.
Silber added, "We also see an opportunity in basic smartphones that are used for the phone, SMS [Short Message Service], Web and email, where Ubuntu outperforms, thanks to its native core apps and stylish presentation."
Ubuntu runs both native and Web, or HTML5, apps; voice or text commands can be used in any application; and there's a global search for apps, content and products. It also has what Canonical calls "Edge Magic"—in which thumb gestures can be used from the edges of the screen "to find content and switch between apps faster than other phones."
The thinking is that a high-end Ubuntu smartphone—or what Canonical likes to call a "superphone"—could offer a PC-like experience when docked with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
"We are defining a new era of convergence in technology," said Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and vice president of products at Canonical, "with one unified operating system that underpins cloud computing, data centers, PCs and consumer electronics."
While more operating systems are likely to be welcomed by carriers and consumers, for enterprises—where they'll create greater complexity—they signal a need to have device management practices in place.
"A year ago, IT departments were only concentrating on three operating systems— iOS, BlackBerry and Android. Today you've got Microsoft with Windows Phone 8, [and] Intel has Tizen; WebOS is kind of saying they're going to make a comeback, and BlackBerry 10 is coming," Ron Hassanwalia, vice president of sales and marketing at SOTI, a mobile device management solutions company, has told eWEEK. "It really is getting more complicated."