If you want to buy a phone right now, you've got a choice of just a few big mobile platforms. But are there any alternatives are on the horizon?
If you’re in the market for a smartphone, you’ve got the choice of a few big name platforms. Your phone’s platform, or operating system, is what makes it tick, and what connects you to your phone’s library of apps. Right now there are four big players ruling the roost, but what else is on the horizon?
Patrick Harrison-Harvey is the man at Vodafone who knows the future; we’ve spoken to him before about the smartphone trends coming to your pockets in 2014 and well beyond, but now he’s here to tell us about the mobile platforms sneaking up on the inside lane.
“Currently, we’ve got Android, iOS, along with Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry as the four core platforms,” he says. “But there are a lot more out there, and the exciting thing is thinking about what could come through next…”
“Ubuntu recently broke the crowd funding record,” Patrick explains, “but the OS already exists, and you could download it onto an Android phone right now if you wanted. What’s cool about it is that it’s a full desktop platform, so you could plug your phone into a monitor and use it as a PC.
“Ubuntu requested crowd-funding to build an official Ubuntu phone, which they were going to build themselves.”
The idea? To make a phone incredibly powerful, so people could use their phone as their computer whenever they were near a monitor and keyboard. The project’s not yet come to fruition, with more funding needed to bring it to life.
“It’s a good platform from a technical point of view,” Patrick adds, “or if you’re looking for something that you can develop on and have some more influence on. Even though more funding is needed, it still might come into the market as a high end solution for tech enthusiasts.”
If you recognise the name, it’ll probably be from your computer: Firefox is one of the world’s most popular web browsers, and, according to Patrick, it’s soon going to land on more phones as a fully-fledged platform:
“It’s quite an interesting proposition because it’s largely web-based as a smartphone experience.
“It doesn’t have to run on phones with high hardware requirements.”
“That means it doesn’t have to run on phones with high hardware requirements, since the grunt work’s being done elsewhere on the web. It’s a platform that doesn’t need so much processing power.” And less spec-heavy phones means cheaper phones.
“Right now smartphones start at the £50 mark, but there’s a large market at that £20 to £30 point.
“We’ve gone from just over 30 per cent smartphone penetration to just over 70 per cent within three or four years. There’s still a lot of people who just want a classic phone, but that’s often from a cost perspective.”
Thing is, once they get to see the flexibility and power of smartphones, and how all that information is there at your fingertips, people are hooked. “So, if we can get those phones into the rest of the market, that could be a great thing,” Patrick says. “I think Mozilla can help get there.”
The only downside is that Mozilla’s Firefox OS needs to go into phones made by other people. “We’re a very brand-led bunch in the UK. And I think that, like Ubuntu, Mozilla will need a very credible smartphone brand on board to help them achieve that.”
“Samsung were the big backers for Tizen,” Patrick explains. “It’s a platform that looks and feels a lot like Android.” Hang on, though… If it’s so similar, what’s the appeal?
“Customers buy into the whole experience of a platform. They love iOS, for instance, because they have access to all their favourite content through iTunes and get them on other Apple devices.
“With Android, people are buy into the Google experience as much as the Samsung, Sony, Huawei or HTC one.
“With that in mind, it would be in all manufacturers’ interests if they could own both their software and the hardware at some point. Therefore, there might be a time when Samsung is ready to take Tizen to the next level with a GALAXY phone that runs Tizen instead of Android.
Any clear winners?
So those are our fresh contenders, but does Patrick think there’s about to be a platform revolution?
“I’m not sure if the big manufacturers can afford to gamble with platforms other than the major ones right now. Everyone wants to have the platform with the most and best apps, so I don’t think that switching to a brand new one will be a big play for any of the big hitters. I’m not sure who can afford to play that gamble.
“We might see some of the more value manufacturers come in to the lower end of the market with these experimental new operating systems, but I don’t see major chances soon.”
Safe for now… So that’s the shape of the smartphone market, and that’s what’s out in left field. If that’s whetted your futurological appetite, there’s loads more insight from Patrick here.