February 21, 2014, 12:14 PM — The newer smartphone OS entrants competing to chip away at the dominance of Android and iOS are heading to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress, and facing a landscape that has changed since last year's show.
Mozilla, Canonical and Jolla are still aimed squarely at Android, but Tizen, backed by Intel and Samsung, faces a more uncertain future, according to analysts.
Last year, phones were shown running all four OSes. Since then, the first phones running Firefox OS and Sailfish from Finnish company Jolla have gone on sale, while Canonical and the Tizen camp have suffered from delays.
Mozilla's Firefox OS has been the most successful, but only about 390,000 Firefox OS phones shipped last year, according to IDC, which expects that figure to rise to 2.5 million this year. That will give Firefox OS a 0.2 percent share of the total smartphone market, IDC said.
For Firefox OS to become a serious contender, it needs more brand awareness, backing from more operators as well as products with improved hardware and software, which is something Mozilla could have in store for an event on Sunday. ZTE has also said it will launch a Firefox OS smartphone, the Open C, at this year's show.
"I believe Firefox could have a chance, because Mozilla has been consistent in its strategy to develop products for the entry-level segment where there are still opportunities. It isn't as crowded as the high-end," said Malik Saadi, practice director at ABI Research.
The Tizen OS, on the other hand, hasn't made much progress since last year, with operators Orange and NTT DoCoMo backing away. While Tizen is working very well technically on commercial-grade smartphones, the surrounding ecosystem of apps and services isn't strong enough for Orange to put out a device, a spokesman said via email earlier this month.
Samsung didn't want to comment on whether it will have a Tizen-based smartphone on display at Mobile World Congress.
"It seems like there has been a warming of the relationship between Google and Samsung with Google's plan to divest the Motorola handset business and the recent patent agreement. So I think Tizen is going to have a difficult show with regards to moving the platform forward," said Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.
A recent rumor is that Samsung plans to use Tizen on a future Galaxy Gear smartwatch. That may make more sense than using the platform on smartphones, because the competition isn't as fierce and the platform's reliance on HTML5 would be less of an issue with fewer and less advanced apps running on smartwatches.