Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox browser, have created a mobile operating system and are working with Chinese handset makers like Huawei to bring ultra affordable smartphones to emerging markets like Indonesia. When they say affordable, their goal is to have average prices in the $50-$75 range. That is a game changer for countries where no one can afford a $200 phone.
Mozilla makes a solid browser, no one can deny that, but they are new to the operating system game and they have some competition from some folks who have some serious game. Below the surface of the two most popular mobile operating systems in the world, Android and iOS, is a Unix based operating system. Unix, for those who are unfamiliar, is the bedrock upon which the open source operating system Linux in all it’s variations and flavors is built. Of all of these flavors or versions, Ubuntu is one of the most popular, and certainly most accessible and easy to use. Those folks have set their sights on the mobile market now, and they’re coming at it from a couple of different angles.
The first I heard about Ubuntu on a phone was Ubuntu for Android. The idea is that your Android phone acts just like it normally would when you’re on the go, and then when you get to your home or office you can dock the phone connecting it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and a special version of the Ubuntu desktop operating system boots up and runs alongside the Android OS. While the phone is docked, if you get a phone call or a text message a notification will pop up on your screen and you can answer either by either talking on speaker phone or typing out your text message reply on the connected keyboard. This is a pretty cool idea for some folks, and on paper it makes a lot of sense for some people. It doesn’t require syncing between your phone and a computer because the phone is the computer. It also doesn’t require any sort of cloud based syncing system like Apple’s iCloud to keep documents or other data synced between your phone and computer.
Ubuntu for Android
The most recent way the folks at Ubuntu are bringing their open source magic to the mobile world is in direct competition with Mozilla’s new Firefox OS. Ubuntu Phone OS is visually very similar to the desktop version, which is generally very slick and nicely styled. One thing that could prove to be a major advantage for Ubuntu over Mozilla is apps. The app ecosystem around a mobile OS can make or break a platform. One reason that Android and iOS have been so successful when compared to BlackBerry is the app ecosystem. If you stop and think about what you do on your phone from day to day, you’ll quickly realize that there are a great many apps you spend a lot of time in that do not come stock on the phone. Those apps come from talented developers who want to get paid, either in cash from sales of the app and/or adds, or they want exposure so that people can recognize their brand and continue using their apps. If a platform doesn’t have developers making apps for their devices, they’ll die fast and quiet. I’m not saying that Mozilla won’t be able to get the support of developers, but Ubuntu has relationships with many mainstream software developers, and if they can leverage that to their advantage it could be a deciding factor.
Both companies have their sights set on emerging markets and making high quality low cost smart phones, and I am all for that. I am a fan of Apple and iOS, as well as Android’s latest offerings. Both are slick and have their strengths and weaknesses. The one common weakness is the cost of the phones themselves. Yes, you can get affordable handsets from Apple and various Android makers, but they are either previous generation phones (iPhone) or they are weak and underpowered handsets that can’t run the latest versions of the platforms operating system (Android). My greatest hope is that these phones succeed and become staples in the mobile market. Choice is always a good thing, and competition makes everyone better at what they do.