Mobile OS buzz for some, deafening silence for others

3 March 2013 by Steve Blum
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Firefox hasn’t quite landed yet.

Firefox has sharpened the debate over prospects for HTML5. The open source, connectivity-centric mobile operating system developed by the Mozilla Foundation gained a lot of attention at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sceptical attention, mostly.

When the OS landscape is so thoroughly dominated by two superpowers – Apple and Google – it’s risky to bet on a challenger. Several mobile carriers expressed support, but manufacturers lagged behind. Geeksphone, a small Spanish company, had demo units to show at Barcelona, but missed its February ship date for SDKs. Nice words from LG and Sony amounted to taking out an option.

It’s a lightweight operating system that, like Google Chrome, is little more than a browser and depends on a live Internet connection for most of its functionality. The power is supposed to come from HTML5-based web services. The idea is to write an OS-agnostic app once in HTML5 and serve it to high end browsers running on any kind of mobile phone. So far though, practice has lagged behind promise. Firefox barely rose above novelty status last week.

Samsung was more forthcoming about its plans for Tizen, a Linux-derived open source OS. As predicted, it’ll replace the in-house Bada OS on future lower end smartphones. Ubuntu was on hand promoting its one OS to rule them all concept, essentially a repeat of its pitch at CES earlier this year.

Blackberry and Windows didn’t get much love at all, though. Microsoft put marketing money into the event but, viewed from outside anyway, didn’t rise above the background noise. Despite its loud and awkward relaunch in January, Blackberry was all but ignored.

It’ll be a while before we know if any of these alternatives have genuine traction. Significant consumer market product launches aren’t expected until the fall, which allows plenty of time for manufacturers and carriers to reverse course or accelerate ahead. For now, it’s still an Android and iOS world.