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The rise of GNU/Linux-powered mobile OSes in 2013

There’s no such thing as a saturated market — not at least for gadgets. And in the world of gadgets, there’s one field that happens to be a hot battlefield: MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEMS.

While Blackberry and Microsoft have been struggling to break through the Android-iOS duopoly, they find they are not the only ones in the race. Three new OSes are here to challenge the norms and redefine the word “smart”. This post talks about what these new GNU/Linux powered players have in store for us.

Firefox OS

App Ecosystem: HTML5
The Trump Card: Already being eyed by giants like Huawei and Foxconn

The goal of Firefox OS is not to attract the users away from other platforms but to make life easier for app developers (and consequently for users) by bridging the gap between different platforms.

All apps for Firefox OS are coded in HTML5 and CSS3, which means that web developers can easily port their webapps to Firefox OS without having to learn another programming language. Giants like Wikipedia, Twitter, Soundcloud and Cut The Rope already have their official apps ready and working on Firefox OS.

What’s more, any platforms (yes, even PC’s) which can run Firefox browser, can run most of its apps out of the box. For instance, Android users can already access the Firefox Marketplace by simply installing the Firefox browser, and it might come to other platforms as well.

Ubuntu Touch

App Ecosystem: QtQuick and HTML5
The Trump Card: Makes your work easier by seamless integration across devices

In the very beginning of 2013, Mark Shuttleworth stunned everyone with the announcement of Ubuntu Touch OS, which promised seamless convergence among all kinds of devices. The concept of Ubuntu Touch is to provide a fullblown OS for PC’s and TV’s right from your smartphone.

Ubuntu Touch features a buttonless UI to navigate around the system. The absence of buttons is filled by gestures, in that a swipe from each of the four edges performs a specific task.

In July-August this year, Canonical started a crowdfunding campaign aiming to raise a whopping $32 million, so that they could make their own smartphone, the Ubuntu Edge, with hardware specs that paralleled those of an average laptop. However, the campaign ended in a bittersweet situation, in that it collected only $12.8 million, which is the highest crowdfund ever received in history: but a failure is still a failure. The Ubuntu Edge won’t happen, and Canonical will have to rely on other OEM’s to manufacture Ubuntu devices.

Sailfish OS

App Ecosystem: QtQuick
The Trump Card: Supports most Android apps out of the box

Despite being a new company, Jolla is not to be considered a minnow. Earlier this year, Jolla started taking preorders for their first device, also called Jolla, and guess what? They sold out. Towards the end of the year, the Jolla was launched in Europe, and received positive reviews.

Jolla introduces a unique design, where the theme of your phone can change based on the backplate (“The Other Half” as they call it) you use. This is done by an NFC tag embedded inside The Other Half.

Sailfish OS runs on the Mer core and is based on the code of the now abandoned MeeGo project. It has a refreshing UI, and like Ubuntu Touch, the focus here is on swipe-based interaction rather than touch-based. The fact that it can run Android apps, gives it quite a jumpstart above its competitors.

What next?

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While each of the above OSes tries to do something new, it is hard to tell which one people will accept and who will bite the dust. Moreover, we are yet to see what they have to offer at CES and MWC in early 2014. It will be interesting to see who succeeds in making a mark in the cutthroat competition of mobile OSes.

Libre software evangelist. GNU/Linux geek who distrohops every quarter. Wannabe otaku. City's biggest Pokémaniac.

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