Against the odds, Canonical and Jolla trot out iOS, Android alternatives

The smartphone OSes have something different, in a good way, to offer

Version 2.0 of Jolla's operating system Sailfish has a split keyboard

Version 2.0 of Jolla's operating system Sailfish has a split keyboard

Four smartphone OSes that hope to find room next to Android and iOS were on display at Mobile World Congress, but the most exciting were Ubuntu Phone and Sailfish OS.

Apple and Google have further tightened their grip on the smartphone OS market; they had a market share of 96.1 percent last year, up from 94 percent in 2013, according to Gartner. However, that hasn't deterred Mozilla, Samsung Electronics, Canonical and Finnish start-up Jolla from developing their own OSes.

At Mobile World Congress they all showed commercial devices for the first time. Mozilla's Firefox OS and Samsung's Tizen have user interfaces that are very reminiscent of Android, but Canonical with Ubuntu Phone and Jolla with Sailfish have been either brave or stupid enough to try something different.

The birth of Ubuntu Phone hasn't been the easy. Canonical's aspirations first made headlines in 2013 when it launched an Indiegogo project to collect US$32 million to produce the Edge smartphone, which was supposed to ship in May last year.

However, the project failed and the first Ubuntu-based smartphone, the BQ Aquaris E4.5, went on sale last month in Europe for €170 ($190).

At Mobile World Congress, Canonical also demonstrated Ubuntu Phone running on the Meizu MX4 LTE smartphone. It's the better of the two with a specification that includes a 5.4-inch, 1152 x 1920 screen, a 20.7-megapixel camera and up to 64GB of integrated storage.

The basic building block in Ubuntu Phone is what Canonical calls scopes, which are screens that aggregate information related to a particular topic. They include News, Music, Nearby and Today screens. The latter two list information related to your location and personalized information, such as favorite contacts. But the OS also has traditional apps.

Users navigate in Ubuntu Phone by swiping left, right, up and down. For example, a swipe from the left reveals a launcher and a long swipe from the right reveals all running apps and scopes. Users can also switch between scopes with shorter swipes to left and right. This might sound complicated, but is in reality quite easy to understand.

When I tested Ubuntu Phone running on the Meizu MX4, which will go on sale soon, the OS still felt a little rough around the edges, but I like the basic concept of the scopes. It would be a shame it Canonical wasn't able to develop its full potential.

The other worthy challenger, Jolla, was founded in 2011 by former Nokia employees who wanted to continue the development work the Finnish phone maker had done on the MeeGo operating system.

The company shipped the first smartphone running its Sailfish OS at the end of 2013. It's now working on a tablet, which was demonstrated at Mobile World Congress running Sailfish 2.0. The navigation in this upcoming version of Sailfish feels even more straightforward than Ubuntu Phone's.

Sailfish is also based on gesture navigation. The home screen shows large icons of running apps, and with a swipe from the left users can access a screen that aggregates messages and some settings. To get back to the home screen from an app users just have to swipe from either side. It's a pretty easy concept to grasp even if you haven't used the platform before.

There is no doubt that Jolla and Ubuntu as well as Samsung and Mozilla face massive challenges. Windows Phone's struggles have shown how difficult it is to compete with Android and iOS even if you have massive resources.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags mobilesmartphonescanonicalconsumer electronicsSamsung ElectronicsMobile OSesMozilla FoundationMWC

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Shining a light on creativity

MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?