The FOSS Effect on the Mobile OS Landscape in 2013

The year is starting out with what may turn out to be significant changes in the mobile operating system market, with open source software playing a significant role just as it has in enterprise software, virtualization and cloud computing.

With fading heavyweights and interesting new challengers, there are changes afoot in the mobile OS market, but we must first acknowledge the market today is still mainly a duopoly of Apple with iOS and Samsung with Android.

However, if we look back five years, we see how dramatically the mobile OS landcape has changed. Given the pace of today’s device and application development and support, as well as users from consumers to the enterprise, we can expect similarly dramatic changes in the coming months and years.

Still Fighting

Another facet of the mobile OS market that remains the same, unfortunately, is the state of software patent and IP battles that continue to fall behind the developers, technology and users of this fast-paced market. It seems that regardless of who wins court victories, injunction fights and arguments over IP and patents — including some that are vague and invalidated — the patent and legal system are not contributing to innovation.

I continue to believe that an aggressive patent assertion or product injunction strategy is a recipe for embarrassment and diminished perception. I also believe that it takes away from a company’s focus on technology and innovation and is thus a losing bet.

Those stagnant parts of the mobile OS market notwithstanding, we got a glimpse of the kinds of changes we can expect in the mobile software market during the first days of 2013. We also saw open source software common to a couple of the signals of coming change.

New OS on the Block

First was word that Samsung, which has ridden the Android OS to the top of the global smartphone market, was working on smartphones powered by the open source Tizen OS. I’ve already voiced my concerns and doubts about Tizen, but I never count out an open source challenger too soon. In fact, I previously indicated that WebOS, the legacy of Palm that withered under HP, might have an opportunity to be the next open source challenger in the mobile OS space. It looks now as though Tizen is the one with greater opportunity as WebOS continues to fade with time.

While we again must acknowledge the dominance of Samsung via Android along with Apple in the smartphone market, Tizen serves as an alternative for handset makers, chipmakers, developers and other technology organizations interested in tapping the growing and lucrative mobile software market.

Just as Android put pressure on Apple to be more open to developers and device makers, Tizen will be an alternative to Android for the market. Tizen is also a validation of the idea of an open source, mobile OS that is successful with broad manufacturer, carrier, developer and consumer support.

Ubuntu’s Entry

Another validation, and more competition, comes from the Linux desktop — of all places — in Ubuntu for mobile phones. The mobile version of the Linux OS software looks to be a somewhat fresh perspective on a smartphone OS, but also faces the same hardware and distribution challenges of Ubuntu on the desktop and server.

It is interesting and perhaps wise to see Ubuntu’s commercial backer, Canonical, focusing mainly on smartphones and downplaying its aspirations in tablets, where Apple is more dominant and Android is fractured, but also a force.

For the doubters of these or even other new mobile OS challengers, particularly open source ones, I remind readers of the early days of the iPhone, when Android was limited in terms of handset maker and wireless carrier support, its application store was well behind Apple and there were no patent of IT claims against Android coming out of Cupertino.

Just as we saw Android and open source software, with its success, further disrupt the mobile software market, I expect we will see some significant changes in the months and years ahead.

We will certainly look forward to covering the evolving mobile OS landscape, leveraging our research capabilities that include 451 Research, ChangeWave and most recently, mobile market specialist Yankee Group, which was acquired by The 451 Group earlier this month.

LinuxInsider columnist Jay Lyman is a senior analyst for 451 Research, covering open source software and focusing primarily on Linux operating systems and vendors, open source software in the enterprise, application development, systems management and cloud computing. Lyman has been a speaker at numerous industry events, including the Open Source Business Conference, OSCON, Linux Plumber's Conference and Open Source World/Linux World, on topics such as Linux and open source in cloud computing, mobile software, and the impact of economic conditions and customer perspectives on open source. Follow his blog here.

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