Does the World Need Another Mobile OS?

by Tim Bajarin   |   March 1st, 2013

All-mobile-OS-logos

There has been a lot of news about mobile operating systems lately. In the news of late has been the launch of the Firefox Mobile OS, LG’s purchase of webOS and Samsung’s renewed focus on Tizen. Given the fact that we already have two mobile operating systems, iOS and Android, which dominate the market, and a third with Microsoft making a go at it. This news causes me to beg the question of whether we really need a new mobile OS and if so, how would it fare against these two operating systems that reside on the majority of all smartphones and tablets today?

It is pretty clear that Apple’s iOS will be their only mobile OS. RIM has their Blackberry OS, but other smartphone and tablet vendors have the option of Android, Windows 8 or Windows 8 Phone. Another option is to create their own version of Android (known as a fork) as Amazon has done with their Kindle Fire HD tablets. Now OEMS have the option of the Firefox Mobile OS, Tizen and mobile Linux as well.

Given the strong market adoption of Android and iOS with the rich ecosystem of software, apps, and services tied to both, even Microsoft and Blackberry will have a tough time gaining any ground on them. On the surface, these new mobile operating systems have a bigger problem. In their case, there is not a solid ecosystem of software and services directly tied to their new OS offerings.

Leverage

However, at the competitive level, I believe that these new mobile OS options may play an important strategic role, especially against Google, whose market position is exploding. Google receives the main monetary benefits of Android running on vendor’s devices and they give their partners a paltry portion of any ad revenue that comes through their partnerships. It is true that some of the smaller handset makers may continue to back Android no matter what. However, if a vendor has a lot of clout, the option of a new mobile OS could give them some interesting leverage against Google to try and gain more favorable terms. If they took this tact, one of these new mobile operating systems could become a strategic weapon for them.

The one company where this could become a real issue is Samsung. Today, Samsung gets only 10% of any ad revenue that Google gets from their devices. Samsung is by far Android’s biggest customer and in fact, many now think of Samsung when they hear the word Android. It is pretty clear that Samsung is now in a place to have a lot of clout with Google and if they are smart, they try and leverage this in their favor. Of course, Google would have a hard time giving more of the ad revenue to any partner and even with Samsung’s strong position, and reach, they could balk at any push to give them more advertising revenue lest it set a precedent for other Android vendors who would want similar terms.

Samsung’s decision to fold their mobile OS, Bada, into Tizen could be a first volley in a strategic dance with Google. I have heard from a few other handset vendors that while they make Google and Android more successful, their return on the investment of Android is minimal to them. Although Android is technically free, they pay through the nose in terms of ad revenue they have to give Google as part of the licensing deal. At the same time, word on the street has been that Google is getting very concerned about Samsung’s great market penetration with their smartphones and tablets. Google fears that Samsung could come back to them and ask for a larger share of the advertising revenues.

Interestingly, should Samsung decide that working with Google on their terms is just too onerous, it is not too far fetched that they could do their own version of Android like Amazon does and keep all of the advertising revenue for themselves. Given Samsung’s new push with Tizen, they could threaten to drop Android and over time migrate all of their customers to Tizen. They could conceivably even develop some form of virtual emulator that would allow Android apps to work on Tizen. I just can’t see Samsung becoming this great powerhouse in mobile and not at some point take control of their entire ecosystem. This would include owning and controlling the mobile OS. Without doing that, they just continue to feed the Google bank and leave a lot of money on the table that should go into their pockets.

While there may be some emerging markets that could use the Firefox Mobile OS, or mobile Linux, I find it hard to believe that any of these mobile operating systems will gain any serious traction in mainstream markets in developed countries. On the other hand, these new mobile operating systems do provide all vendors an interesting option should any of them continue to be concerned that Google is getting to powerful.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Rich

    I’m betting BlackBerry will take a #3 position (after Apple and Google).

  • Defendor

    “keep all of the advertising revenue for themselves”

    Rolling their own OS won’t give them the advertising revenue, that comes from services. The OS is the easy part rolling out an equivalent package of services is harder.

    Application ad revenue (admob-Google owned ad network).
    Search ad revenue(Google Search).
    Maps ad revenue.(Google Maps).
    etc…

    Until Samsung shows it has services to replace Google Services, Google has little to worry about.

  • pawhite524

    Tim,

    Thought provoking about Samsung becoming master of its own OS. Brand loyalty to Samsung would have to extraordinarily high for this to succeed, no? I, myself, don’t feel any loyalty to Samsung. I group them with several other good but not truly great manufacturers including Asus, LG, Acer, HTC, and, IMHO, below Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, Panasonic, and Hitachi. If I was a fan of Android and Samsung dumps Android I don’t believe I would go with Samsung but find another manufacturer so I would not lose the Android eco-system.

    One more thing. You wrote, “If they took this tact, one of these new mobile operating systems could become a strategic weapon for them.”
    I believe “tack” rather than “tact” applies as it is a sailing term referring, loosely, to use of the sails to adjust to conditions to maintain a certain direction. For instance, fighting the wind or current a sailboat may go northeast then northwest when the goal is go north.

    All the best.

  • http://twitter.com/naofumi Naofumi Kagami

    Clayton Christensen of the “Innovator’s Dilemma” describes how products that started out from the low-end eventually disrupted the market and turned it upside-down, all while the incumbents were still oblivious to the threat. I sense that Firefox OS might actually be this kind of disruptive innovation. Andy Rubin himself has dismissed the threat, and tech-pundits like yourself have too in this article. Being dismissed by the mainstream is actually a positive for the disrupter.

    On the other hand, the Firefox OS team stress the ability to run on devices with 1GHz single-core processors, small screens and hence much reduced power consumption. An executive from KDDI (a Firefox OS partner and the 2nd largest Japanese carrier) has mentioned how Firefox OS more strictly manages data consumption and hence may be sold without a fixed-data plan which will be substantially cheaper for the customer.

    I can easily see how such a product, if realized, could gain traction from those people who prefer feature phones to smartphones because of battery life, or who cannot afford Androids because of the data-plan.