At Mobile World Congress 2013, Android will share some of the limelight with other device platforms ranging from Windows Phone 8 (WP8) to open source upstarts like Firefox OS, Ubuntu, Tizen and Sailfish. Although agreeing that these rivals will face big challenges versus Android smartphones, analysts also see some reasons why Android might lose some sway, sooner or later.
"The smartphone market is now a duopoly: iOS and Android. Others are trying to compete based on either new users or new use cases. They're trying to make something that will be backed by [mobile] operators who don't want a duopoly," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, in an interview with Brighthand.
Meanwhile, with overall sales of Android phones still soaring, Android phone manufacturers are not necessarily ecstatic, analysts say.
"Other Android players are having to compete against Google's own Nexus. That does kind of weaken the market and give someone else a chance to come in and try to steal," pointed out Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, in another interview with Brighthand.
According to a blog post on the Strategic Analytics Web site, "Microsoft WP8, BB10, Firefox, Tizen and Sailfish should all have interesting stories to tell" at MWC 2013.
Microsoft Will Be at MWC...But BlackBerry?
Despite dropping out of CES 2013, however, Microsoft will hold down a booth at MWC 2013. Also at the show in Barcelona, Nokia is reportedly going to take the wraps off a low-cost Windows Phone 8 device, possibly the long-awaited Nokia Flame.
Huawei is expected to exhibit the Ascend W1, a super-cheap WP8 device first introduced at CES and slated to be available through British Telecom operator O2 next month. The rollout of a second W8 phone from Huawei at MWC is rumored. In the U.S., FCC regulatory filings for the Ascend W1 have recently been spotted, carrying branding for US prepaid carrier TracFone Wireless throughout the documents.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry (formerly known as Research in Motion, or RIM) decided to launch its BlackBerry10-enabled Z10 and Q10 several weeks in advance of MWC.
"Windows Phone 8 and BB10 are both well funded," Enderle observed. Moreover, BlackBerry already enjoys extensive relationships with carriers worldwide. On the other hand, BlackBerry has been slow out of the starting gates with delivering the BB10 phones -- the U.S. release won't be until next month.
A search of MWC exhibitors by Brighthand on Friday yielded no results under the names BlackBerry, RIM, or Research in Motion. At MWC 2012, in contrast, the company displayed its smartphone lineup, PlayBook tablet, and QNX-enabled connected car, along with holding a "BlackBerry Developer Day."
As for the emerging open source wannabes, Canonical has announced that a preview version of a mobile edition of its Ubuntu OS -- a Linux distribution -- will be available at MWC. Visitors who go to the Ubuntu booth will be able to flash (or switch) the OS on their Google Nexus or Nexus 4 phones from Android to Ubuntu.
Canonical is targeting two different markets with Ubuntu: entry-level phones and the enterprise space. "We expect Ubuntu to be popular in the enterprise market, enabling customers to provision a single secure device for all PC, thin client and phone functions," said Jane Silber, CEO, in a statement earlier this year. Silber also touted Ubuntu as the most widely-used platform among Linux enterprise desktop OS.
Security issues might indeed rear their heads as another weakness for Android, according to Enderle. "Android and OS are being targeted right now, simply because of huge volume. A major breach could happen."
"Mapping to key Firefox footprints around the globe, leading operators Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telenor are backing the open Firefox OS as an exciting new entrant to the smartphone marketplace. They have also identified the potential of the technology to deliver compelling smartphone experiences at attainable prices," proclaims a blurb on Mozilla's site.
Device makers ZTE and TCL Communication Technology (under the Alcatel On Touch brand) have signed on to manufacture the first Firefox OS phones, which will use Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors. The first phones are supposed to launch early this year in Brazil through Telefonica's commercial brand, Vivo.
Leading lights behind the Ubuntu, Firefox OS and Tizen platforms will appear together in a panel at the Mobile World Live Keynote on Tuesday in Barcelona. Tizen and another contender, the Sailfish OS, are both offshoots of MeeGo.
To be more specific, MeeGo was a joint effort between Finnish-based Nokia and Intel to merge Nokia's Maemo OS with Intel's Moblin. When Nokia pulled the plug on MeeGo to go with Windows Phone instead, Intel then teamed up with Samsung to create Tizen.
The tale gets even snarlier. Tizen, in turn, brings togther Meego with bada, an earlier OS from Samsung which appeared aboard smartphones which achieved impressive sales in countries like France, Russia, India and Brazil.
Tizen is aimed at interoperability across smartphones, tablets, PCs, and in-car systems. Samsung's move with the new OS seems to have been prompted by Google's decision late last year to acquire Motorola Mobility, a direct competitor to Samsung. Tizen includes both Linux and HTML in its source code.
While Samsung isn't anticipated to announce its upcoming Tizen smartphones at MCW, the company will hold an app developers conference there. According to a cryptically worded statement on the MCW site, during the Samsung developers conference keynote, "major services and technologies will be introduced. Samsung's latest technical tools will support developers to provide [a] variety of contents and services to the users. Also new developer programs based on strong relationship with partners will be introduced."
Speculation has it that the first Tizen phone could be released by Japan's NTT DoCoMo by the end of this year. Yet Samsung, of course, is already a massive producer of Android and WP8 handsets.
Sailfish, the other MeeGo offshoot, is already gaining some traction with international carriers, Greengart noted. Sailfish is the work of Jolla, a Swedish company of about 100 people consisting largely of former Nokia employees.
According to various sources, Finland's DNA has already committed to selling the first Sailfish phones. Chinese manufacturer Zopo reportedly plans to sell Sailfish phones in India. D Phone, the largest smartphone distributor in China, has agreed to sell the phones in China, a country where China Mobile acted as a partner for Meego.
If you live in the United States, don't expect to be able to trot on down to your local phone store any time soon and pick up a Sailfish device -- or a phone running Ubuntu, Firefox OS, or Tizen, for that matter. It's a big wide world out there, though, and a bunch of mobile OS developers are looking to pick up ground against Android everywhere they can.
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