War for your pocket: These 5 new operating systems plan to battle Android and iOS in 2013

For the first time in several years, 2013 looks set to play host to the launch of numerous compelling new mobile operating systems, at least one of which could have a chance of stealing some market share from the reigning champions Android and iOS. Of course, neither of these will be sweating just yet, but we expect some droplets to be forming on a few foreheads at Microsoft.

By our reckoning, there are five interesting challengers expected to appear over the next 12-months, so ahead of CES 2013 – where several will be demonstrated to developers and the public – here’s a rundown of the software that could be vying for your attention on a flashy new smartphone come CES 2014.

BlackBerry 10

By far the biggest name on our list, BlackBerry 10 is also backed by the company with the most to lose. Like Nokia last year, Research in Motion badly needs a winner, otherwise its future looks very uncertain indeed. Worse still, even if BlackBerry 10 does meet with a decent response, things will remain shaky for RIM for a while, just like they have for Nokia.

Thanks to some strategic leaks and a few informative presentations, we know quite a lot about BlackBerry 10 and the phones on which it will launch. We even have an exact date when it will arrive, January 30, plus the knowledge it’ll be available about a month afterward on two phones, one with a touchscreen and the other with a QWERTY keyboard.

BlackBerry 10 hands on notification peeking

As for the software, it has a new web browser and an improved touchscreen keyboard, plus an innovative camera feature named Time Shift, where a burst mode lets to manually change individual expressions to make the perfect photo.

There’s a lot of goodwill toward RIM, and BlackBerry phones have a solid following around the world, but any level of reinvention is always a risk – the specter of Palm and WebOS probably roams the hallways of RIM’s headquarters, as an ever present reminder that even an innovative product isn’t always enough to succeed.

Ubuntu for Mobile

Ubuntu may be a familiar name in Linux-loving desktop software circles, but it’s an unknown in the mobile world. This hasn’t stopped Canonical from giving it a go anyway. Later this year or early next, we’ll be able to buy a smartphone running Ubuntu for Mobile.

Ubuntu is based on Linux like Android, uses the same drivers, and will operate on devices using ARM or Intel processors. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use Oracle’s Java Virtual Machine and won’t run any Android applications. This clean slate, plus a consistent framework hidden under a customizable skin, is supposed to avoid the fragmentation issues from which Android suffers. It’s a good idea, and no doubt Canonical sees Android’s success as a driver for its own mobile endeavors, but to start afresh is a huge undertaking – as is convincing non-techy users it’s a viable alternative at all. Ubuntu for Mobile does have a secret weapon though: it can be installed on existing Android hardware. The already strong Ubuntu community will also rush to embrace it, particularly because it offers a true desktop experience when docked with a keyboard and monitor.

From what we’ve seen of the user interface, it’s based around gestures and doesn’t require any hardware buttons. Swipes reveal menus and open apps. It’s difficult to judge it at the moment, as the early build displays some lag; however, a version suitable for the Galaxy Nexus will be released later this year, which should help speed development along. Canonical will be showing off Ubuntu for Mobile during CES, where an early version of the OS will be seen running on test devices.

Firefox OS

Research in Motion has Android, Windows Phone, and iOS firmly in its sights, but Mozilla is targeting the budget sector with its Firefox OS, therefore gunning almost exclusively for cheap Android phones. Previously known as Boot to Gecko, Firefox OS is ready to launch in several countries in early 2013, plus Mozilla has signed up hardware manufacturers such as ZTE and Alcatel as partners. Telefonica, the Spanish mobile giant which has an extensive presence around the world, is onboard, and in the U.S., Sprint will apparently support the software.

Telefonica’s backing is key, as the first Firefox OS phone is set to make its debut in Brazil and other Latin American countries, where the company owns many fixed and mobile communication networks. Hardware running the software will be low spec and probably cost less than $100, so strong promotion though companies like Telefonica in new and developing markets will be crucial to its success.

Internally, Firefox OS is similar to Android, but it won’t be able to run Android apps and will instead rely on Web apps available through Mozilla’s own app store. Firefox itself is high web app-centric, designed and built using HTML5. You can read our hands-on report here, or even try out Firefox OS yourself using this browser extension.

Jolla

Jolla is the Finnish firm hoping to bring back MeeGo, the mobile OS abandoned by Nokia when it adopted Windows Phone, and is the true dark horse in our line-up. The Sailfish UI was unveiled at an event in November, and although our introduction was brief it did show promise. MeeGo’s spirit lives on in the shape of gesture controls and a smart, simple interface, plus there’s no denying the energy and enthusiasm the Jolla team has for the project.

What’s more, a little like BlackBerry 10, Jolla already has an established fan base thanks to the international support for MeeGo and its single phone, the Nokia N9. Jolla is counting on each and everyone of them, plus those unable to purchase an N9, to flock to the first Sailfish phone. If Jolla and Saifish where a movie, it would have “cult hit” written all over it. It would also be an indie flick; it’s the only OS on our list which doesn’t have a few large companies behind it, which could mean financial concerns further down the road.

Jolla will initially look outside of Europe and the U.S., concentrating first on China for business, where it will also base its servers. It has said the first Jolla smartphone will be announced before the end of March and released before summer. While it doesn’t have an official presence at CES 2013, according to the company’s Twitter account, some representatives – amusingly referred to as Sailors – will be there to promote the intriguing OS.

Tizen LogoTizen

Here’s were things get a little incestuous, as Tizen is a joint project between Intel and Samsung and it came to life after the cancellation of MeeGo, from which, as we’ve just learned, Jolla was formed. Additionally, Samsung has merged Tizen with its own standalone mobile OS Bada, which is helpfully based on Linux and is compatible with Tizen. It’s linked to Firefox OS too, as its apps will be built using HTML5 and will be compatible with Mozilla’s operating system, and vice versa.

Although there was plenty of big talk from Samsung at the beginning of 2012 regarding an impending smartphone release, nothing more was said until last week, when Samsung piped up again, saying that Tizen phones would be out this year instead.

Tizen’s trump card may appear to be Samsung’s support, but in reality it could be Intel, as its desperation to gain a foothold in the mobile processor market should see plenty of money and effort put into Tizen’s success. (Although the software is compatible with ARM-based devices, you can bet Intel will be pushing Samsung to choose its Atom processors.)

Samsung’s plan is rumored to be equally selfish, as it’s said to be looking for an alternative to Android should Google and Motorola suddenly start churning out exciting phones together. Bada is surprisingly successful, with Gartner putting it fourth in its worldwide device sales chart for Q3 2012 and ahead of Windows Phone, meaning Tizen could have quite a head start over the others listed above. Version 2.0 of Tizen is expected to launch soon and it could be on display at CES, heralding the arrival of the first Tizen phones.

Can any of these succeed?

When talking about fledgling mobile operating systems, the question, “do we really need another smartphone OS?” is often asked. It’s a fair question, as the three we currently use are well-designed, relatively bug-free, regularly updated, and have ever-growing app eco-systems behind them. Therefore, given this huge head start and the financial might behind Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, perhaps a more pertinent question is, “how can any of these succeed?” They will need perseverance, support from developers and networks, dedicated fanbases, and some stellar and/or keenly priced and widely available hardware. Not all of them will make it, but one or two may do some damage. What OS would you put your money on?

Mobile

Sony's Xperia 10 smartphone boasts a 6-inch screen and is now available

Sony took the wraps off of three new phones at Mobile World Congress 2019, including the new Xperia 1, which is the company's new flagship phone and the first with a 4K OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
Home Theater

The best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Movies & TV

No TV? No problem. Here's how to watch the Final Four online

Whether you want to watch the Big Dance on your phone or on your smart TV, we have the lowdown on the ways to watch all the March Madness you can handle. Grab your foam finger and some nachos.
Deals

Looking to upgrade? These are the best iPhone deals for March 2019

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for March 2019.
Computing

Tired of paying a monthly fee for Word? The best Microsoft Office alternatives

Looking for a competent word processor that isn't Microsoft Word? Thankfully, the best alternatives to Microsoft Office offer robust features, expansive compatibility, and an all-too-familiar aesthetic. Here are our favorites.
Mobile

FCC to help first responders pinpoint 911 callers in multistory buildings

When someone calls 911 from their cell phone, wireless carriers provide operators with an approximate location. Now the FCC wants the carriers to provide vertical location data to pinpoint 911 callers inside multi-story buildings.
Mobile

Latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone will pop up on April 10

Samsung will show at least one new Galaxy phone off on April 10, it has confirmed in a teaser tweet. The Galaxy A90 may make its first appearance, and it's rumored to have a pop-up camera and a notch-less screen.
Mobile

Leaked ZTE concept phones are crazy, possibly fake, and totally worth seeing

Renders of what may be ZTE concept phones may show how the manufacturer could avoid using the notch on future devices. They're crazy -- and maybe not even real -- but they're definitely worth looking at.
Mobile

The iPad Mini, Apple’s tiny tablet, makes a return with powerful specs

Apple has finally revealed the iPad Mini. With all-new and upgraded specs, support for the Apple Pencil, and a fantastically inclusive price, here's everything you need to know about the iPad Mini.
Mobile

The Apple iPad Air is the power-packed tablet for everyone

The iPad Air is the less serious cousin to Apple's iPad Pro range, and it's the perfect addition to your coffee table. But it's no less powerful. Here's everything you need to know about the iPad Air.
Mobile

Get excited for your Sony Xperia 10 or 10 Plus by getting it set up just right

If you've picked up one of the Sony's more affordable smartphones, you may be be wondering what hidden depths lie within. We've got some handy Sony Xperia 10 tips for you here to help you get to grips with your new phone.
Deals

This is the one thing you need to do before giving your child a smart phone or tablet

Monitoring your kids' digital habits can be a challenge in today’s high-tech age, but great parental control software like Qustodio gives parents a much-needed advantage Read on to find out how you can protect your child from online…
Mobile

How to choose an iPad in 2019: A practical guide to Apple’s tablets

Selecting an iPad from Apple's lineup can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Our comprehensive guide should put the numbers and specs in practical, easy-to-understand terms. Find your ideal iPad with the help of our guide.
Mobile

These voice-changing apps will have you punking friends and family like a pro

Have you ever wanted to call your friends as Darth Vader or Alvin from the Chipmunks? If you want to play a prank on your friends, we have the best voice-changer apps for iOS and Android, whether you want to record audio or make a call.