Smartphone world to get two new OS' in 2013

Firefox and Sailfish to debut on separate smartphones

Smartphones running Mozilla Firefox and Jolla Sailfish will launch separately in 2013 amid a crowded smartphone market.

Their impact will be small but important initially, as the smartphone community seeks alternatives to the frontrunner mobile operating systems, Apple's iOS and Android, analysts said.

Smartphone maker ZTE last week said it will work with a European wireless carrier to introduce a smartphone based on Mozilla's Firefox mobile OS. ZTE might also offer a device on the same OS in the U.S., ZTE's U.S. unit CEO Cheng Lixen told the Bloomberg news service.

Separately, Jolla's Sailfish OS is expected to appear on a smartphone, possibly in China, in the first quarter, according to various sources. Sailfish was first shown in Helsinki in November.

Jolla means "dinghy" in Finnish, and the company is made up of former Nokia employees who had worked on the MeeGo OS before Nokia dumped MeeGo in favor of Windows Phone in February 2011.

Some early reviewers have compared the Sailfish interface to the live tiles in Windows Phone 8, since users can interact with icons directly on the home screen. Jolla has posted a glimpse of the interface on YouTube.

Engadget also posted an eight-minute video demo by a Jolla developer of Sailfish on a prototype device.

The Firefox OS smartphone

Mozilla workers also showed a "mystery" Firefox OS smartphone device before the International CES trade show, but visitors could not run it well over the show's Wi-Fi network. The device was not branded by any particular manufacturer.

Mozilla has said Firefox will be powered by HTML5, and that it will be manufactured by Hong Kong's TCL Communication Technology, under its Alcatel One Touch nameplate, as well as ZTE. The phone will first appear in South America later this year, according to Mozilla representatives at CES.

Mobile carriers that have committed to supporting Firefox OS, include Sprint in the U.S., Germany's Deutsche Telekom, Abu Dhabi's Etisalat, Smart Communications in the Philippines, Italy's Telecom Italia, Spain's Telefonica and Norway's Telenor.

Both mobile OS's appear to be headed for low- or mid-priced smartphones, according to several analysts. Strategy Analytics has predicted that Firefox will capture 1% of the global smartphone market in 2013.

IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said that both Firefox and Sailfish will catch on "very slowly." The new Oses will be competing in a market dominated by Android and iOS, while the market for phones using the Windows Phone OS gains steam and BlackBerry 10 smartphones are due to launched on Jan. 30.

"For now, it seems like a lot of talk but not much to show," said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst. "I think 2013 will see vendors and carriers looking at these OS alternatives primarily driven by a need not to put all their future in Google's hands."

She said some of the new OS's might end up in white-label devices, which are made by the same manufacturer and offered by various carriers.

The launch of smartphones running Firefox and Sailfish will be followed with interest by the top four smartphone OS makers, said William Dudley, group director of product management for SAP. Dudley follows mobile industry trends and made a new mobile OS in 2013 one of his top 10 mobile predictions for the year.

"There is a great deal of innovation in this industry, and I think that some in the top four will not be the top four by the end of this decade," Dudley wrote. He said that a new mobile OS in 2013 might even support apps from other operating systems.

Dudley noted in an interview that many early adopters and developers haven't been happy with early OS's. The biggest downfall of Android is that it is "very fragmented" across a variety of makers, he said.

Firefox will be distinguished by its reliance on HTML 5, which will draw in developers, he said. "These four [incumbent OS's] can't rest on their laurels," Dudley said. "Somebody will get a piece of their pie."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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