New kids on the block: Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS, and Tizen

Tizen Reference HardwareThe Android platform has a virtual stranglehold on the market in the UK. According to new data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, Google’s mobile platform has 58.4% of the market and sales of the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are expected to boost that dominance to new heights. Apple’s iOS claims 28.9% of the market, and Windows Phone is winning the battle for third with 7%, while BlackBerry lags behind with 5.1%.

Is there room for a new contender? How about three new contenders? At MWC earlier this year, we saw three new operating systems that are set to launch in the near future – Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS, and Tizen. They each have a different background, and, while it might take them a while to gain traction, you have to remember that Android has only been around for five years.

Let’s take a closer look at their prospects.


Samsung manufactures five out of the top ten of the best-selling phones in the UK right now. The South Korean giant sells more smartphones worldwide than anyone else. Each new release sees more Samsung apps and services, more exclusive features to differentiate the range from the Android herd; the Galaxy S4 is a case in point. Samsung even doubles up on features that Google apps already provide. There have been rumors about tensions in their relationship, and talk of Samsung’s own platform, Tizen, has been swirling around for years now. This is the year it will finally hit the market.

Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile division told Bloomberg, “The Tizen phone will be out in August or September, and this will be in the high-end category. The device will be the best product equipped with the best specifications.”

If anyone has the muscle and brand awareness to launch a new platform and gain a decent market share then it is Samsung. Realistically, though, the company has always hedged its bets. Tizen is a way of ensuring that it is not completely reliant on Android, since the performance of Windows Phone, which Samsung also produces devices for, has been disappointing, and Samsung’s other platform, Bada, is somewhat limited. If Tizen can offer a good user experience, it may not be much of a leap for Galaxy fans already used to Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay on Android.

Samsung has been working on Tizen with Intel and we’ll see the results soon. Other manufacturers may be tempted to try it out.

Firefox OS

Mozilla found worldwide fame and acclaim with the free, open source web browser, Firefox. It took the web by storm and racked up hundreds of millions of users. Now it would like to do the same thing with mobile. Firefox OS is an open source mobile platform built on HTML5 and other open web standards. It has already attracted the attention of some big manufacturers and carriers and garnered the support of LG, Alcatel, Telefonica (O2), T-Mobile, ZTE, Qualcomm, Sprint, and several others.

Early indications are that the first wave of Firefox OS phones will be budget devices, probably aimed at developing markets. However, Spanish startup Geeksphone has already put Firefox OS phones up for pre-order and is claiming high demand. As the first true web-based platform on mobile it could be well-placed as HTML5 development takes off.

Ubuntu Touch

Encompassing Ubuntu for Phones and Ubuntu for tablets, Canonical’s new platform is looking to bring desktop Ubuntu to the mobile world. It’s a platform that could run on your smartphone, tablet, TV, or PC and provide a consistent experience across all of them. Ubuntu originates from the same Linux kernel as Android and so it can run on Android hardware (there was an Ubuntu for Android release last year).

It certainly got CNET excited when it was shown off at MWC as they voted it best of show, highlighting the “slick, elegant interface”. It will work with web apps, support HTML5, and also work with native apps. Canonical already partners with Asus, HP, Dell, and Lenovo, but there’s no word on who might produce the first Ubuntu smartphone.

Most likely to succeed

Firefox OS is deliberately targeting emerging markets and its ability to run on low-end hardware could see it establishing a foothold that might grow as the long-predicted move to HTML5 takes off. Since it’s intended to run web apps, developers don’t have to develop native apps just for Firefox OS, but that also means, at least for the moment, that the apps are not likely to be as good as the cream of the native app crop on other platforms.

Ubuntu appears to bridge the gap by supporting native and web apps, but it may struggle to tempt developers to create native apps, and it looks as though it will be a little more demanding in terms of hardware requirements.

Tizen’s success or failure depends largely on how much weight Samsung wants to throw behind it and we’ll find out the truth of that when the first Tizen smartphone is released this summer. We’ll keep you posted.

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About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.