The next generation of mobile operating systems
We profile the upstarts taking on iOS and Android — and, more importantly, how to start developing apps for them now.
The smartphone market, opened up by Apple’s iPhone in 2007, is
dominated by two goliath operating systems: iOS and Android. Even
Microsoft has struggled to crack the market: two years after its
big relaunch, Windows Phone still hasn’t even captured above
4% of the
Why is this bad? Because, as we all know from Windows and Internet Explorer’s dominance, a lack of competition leads to stagnation and a lack of choice for consumers. However, there is hope on the horizon: Firefox OS, BlackBerry 10, Ubuntu for phones and Sailfish OS could blow the market wide open and score a triumph for open source software.
Perhaps in order to boost the number of “apps” on their platforms, there’s a clear HTML5 theme running through development of third-party software on these operating systems. While most still support “native” software (often utilising the open source Qt library), all support “web apps” – and thanks to PhoneGap and other similar projects, these web apps can be ported to iOS and Android with minimum fuss, too.
covered Firefox OS in some depth, but in case you’ve been
living under a rock for the past few months, here’s a quick
overview: Firefox OS is a mobile operating system that runs nothing
but HTML5 (even the lock and home screens are coded this way),
designed to run on lower-end devices in emerging markets.
Despite being an industry punchline for years, BlackBerry’s new
touchscreen operating system has been receiving
positive reviews and are
selling moderately well. Desperate for apps, the company has
guaranteed that if “quality certified” apps fail to make
$10,000 in their first year on sale, BlackBerry will make up the
Thankfully, the company have done more to attract developers than just throw money at the problem, opening the platform up to HTML5, Java 7.1 (including an Eclipse plug-in) and even ports of Android apps. BlackBerry is still a big consumer brand, so it’s always possible that with a fancy new operating system it can recover to become a viable third platform.
Ubuntu for phones
The popular Linux distribution unexpectedly announced a
move into the mobile arena two days into 2013. Expected to be
released in October, Ubuntu for phones marks itself out from other
mobile OSs by allowing a keyboard and monitor to be plugged in for
use as a full-size desktop computer.
Apps can be developed using QML or HTML5, and the developer centre has a quickstart guide for writing your first native app. While web app documentation is still thin on the group, they are said to be “first class citizens” on Ubuntu for phones, running independently of the browser with “access to system services”.
Even further off than Ubuntu for phones is Sailfish OS, a resurrection of Nokia’s ill-fated MeeGo system. There’s nothing resembling a public release date yet, and even the project’s wiki admits that “it’s early days for building applications on Sailfish OS”, but like Ubuntu for phones will allow apps to be developed using HTML5, QML and Qt. With offices based out of Finland and Hong Kong, it’s always possible that Sailfish OS might take off in the gigantic Chinese market.