Berlin (dpa) – Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS have long stood unchallenged as the providers of operating systems for mobile devices. But suddenly they face a challenge – indeed two – from up-and-coming open source operating systems.
Both Ubuntu and Mozilla’s Firefox OS have set themselves high goals and have good chances, say experts. They’ve already found several partner mobile phone manufacturers from all over the world who are counting on these systems as part of their business strategy.
Part of the charm is the way they both use HTML5, meaning people can create their own web apps without too much fuss. That only highlights their independence from Google and Apple.
The push to bring Firefox devices to the masses is going to start in Poland (Deutsche Telekom) and Spain and Latin America (Telefonica)
this summer. Mobiles based on this service are expected to be as affordable as possible and easy to use.
All basic functions, from texting to social networks, will be pre-installed. Apps will be accessible in an integrated Firefox Marketplace.
”A lot of it hearkens back to the market leaders, Android and iOS,” says useability expert Barbara Krueger of GfK SirValUse, commenting on the Firefox OS user interface. Most apps work well, though programmers will need some patience if they want to use complicated graphics or specific hardware components.
Since the operating system is relatively sleek, the Firefox OS is proving popular with low-cost smartphones that have had problems with newer versions of Android. The first Firefox mobiles – the Alcatel One Touch Fire and the ZTE One – have working memory of just 256 gigabytes, relatively slow processors and just one processor core.
Even specialty devices for Firefox OS rarely rise past mid-market expectations.
Meanwhile, multitasking seems to be the key with the mobile version of Ubuntu, being worked on by developers at Canonical. A lot of the action is on the edge of the display and in a series of wheels, says chief designer Oren Horev. The goal is to allow people to do various tasks at once.
Other options include Tizen, which supports web apps. There’s also Sailfish OS, which developer Jolla hopes to license to manufacturers and network operators. It can also support Android apps. And Blackberry is still trying to create its own smartphone and OS concept.
”The separation of hard- and software speeds up innovation,” says Dirk Riehle, a professor for open source software at Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuernberg.
But the market has, so far, been dominated by closed systems like Apple, with its iOS and app store. Even Android, despite its origins in Linux, is a very walled-off system where Google trumpets its well-functioning internet services.
”For end users, the value is always in the entire package,” says Riehle.
And a lot of that value derives from apps, which is why it’s so hard to forecast the future of the open source operating systems.