Rob Lever Washington

A handful of new smartphone platforms are expected to be launched this year, challenging the stranglehold of the two market leaders, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Android and Apple account for more than 90 percent of the surging smartphone market, and third place is being contested by BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

But phones using operating systems based on the open-source platforms Linux and Mozilla’s Firefox will make their debut this year, most likely in emerging markets.

Among smartphone makers, “there is a consensus that there is room for a couple more operating systems”, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with research firm IDC.

“Maybe not globally, but in some markets which could be used as proving grounds.”

An IDC survey showed Apple and Android devices accounted for 91.1 percent of smartphones sold last year, but that new platforms were worth watching in a market with 46 percent growth last year.

The Mozilla Foundation, the developer of the Firefox browser and a new mobile operating system, claims to have 17 operators on board and plans Firefox OS phones in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.

The key player to watch is Samsung, which is the biggest smartphone maker with about 40 percent of all Android phones but is planning new devices using Tizen, an operating system based on Linux.

The Tizen Association, which also includes France’s Orange, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, China’s Huawei and US-based Intel, said the firms “view openness as a key to raising the bar for user experience”.

Some analysts were surprised by Samsung’s move.

“I wonder about Samsung’s motivation,” said Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies. “To get out from Google’s control might be part of it, but I’m not sure how rational that is. The partnership has been very fruitful for both companies.”

But Aapo Markkanen, an analyst with ABI Research, said Samsung was trying to break free from Google and Tizen could be the key for that.

“All signs are pointing to Samsung trying to pull off a Great OS Escape within the next year or two,” Markkanen said, adding that Tizen “will be given a kick-start with the software and service portfolio that Samsung has accumulated” along with “Samsung’s gargantuan marketing budget”.

Other Linux phone systems are also readying their entry.

Ubuntu, a Linux operating system promoted by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth’s Canonical, expects to have phones ready later this year. And Sailfish, a Linux variant from Finland, has released its program for developers. – Sapa-AFP