Hey, Ubuntu! We’ve Dug You a Nice Grave over Here!

Hey, Ubuntu! We've Dug You a Nice Grave over Here!Smartphone platforms. There are the big three: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Then there’s RIM’s upcoming attempt at saving itself from sure death with BlackBerry 10. Samsung may also be trying to reduce its dependence on Android with Tizen. Then you’ve got Ubuntu, the world’s most popular Linux distro, now being ported to phones. webOS is somewhere, lost in the sea of open source software. It would also be foolish to forget the outcome of Nokia’s abandonment of MeeGo Sailfish, although maybe it is very much forgettable…

Seeing the problem? I listed no less than eight entirely separate smartphone platforms in that opening paragraph. There are probably many more that have slipped my mind at the moment, and will probably never return to my thoughts. Ever.

There is simply no way that the industry will be able to sustain more than three or four large platforms. Right now, there are two: iOS and Android, with Windows Phone clipping at their heels as Microsoft hopelessly tries to claw back the respectable market share it used to have. I think it’ll get somewhere, eventually, maybe still in third place, but with a share of the market large enough not to ignore. But it doesn’t matter what I think, because it doesn’t change the fact that the market is about to become incredibly saturated, and there will be many losers (some would say webOS has already lost, and I definitely won’t argue with that).

But why, some of you will ask, can’t there be a multitude of platforms? Isn’t competition good? Of course competition is good, but these platforms do not offer anything significantly different that can compete with the big boys. Functionally, they’re all very similar, and they’re not pushing or changing anything by being this way. There is nothing that makes me say “wow” about any alternative operating system I have seen so far; in fact, about the only one I even bothered to read the full marketing material for was Ubuntu.

However, it’s not just the monotony of these offerings that will result in their demise. If everyone and their mother were building a platform, what would developers do? Would they invest in developing their apps for as many of these platforms as they could? Of course not. They’d stick to the big ones, and even Windows Phone is struggling to build its app marketplace. Would you buy a smartphone that couldn’t get the apps for the services you use every day?

Then there are the problems that are specific to whichever path each company has decided to take — oh, wait, almost all are taking the same path: open source. Great. Manufacturers can use your operating system in their handsets with no cost to them. Surely that means someone will give it a go? What a pity then that Android is also free, and they have no reason to look at a “me too!” product. And if you are building a closed system, good luck trying to get someone to pay for your platform.

2013 will be a year of many crash-and-burns. These companies are better off investing their expertise somewhere else instead of playing a game of “let’s mimic the big guys and cross our fingers for success.” If you want to rise up and cause hell in the smartphone market, wait for that all new from the ground up concept to enter your head — that big idea that even Apple and Google have missed (Microsoft missing it would be rather unremarkable). Don’t fight a losing battle; enter when you’re in it to win it.

Mitchell Farmer is a New Zealand-based CEO in the mobile accessories industry.

Image: Phone Comparison by Nik_Doof (via Flickr)

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  • HarryMonmouth

    I think that ubuntu actually stands a reasonable chance. It will take a bit of a push though, that is the problem. At present if I buy a mac I have no worries, I have a nice mac OS but if I get a windows computer we are in the traditional Windows period during which their OS leaves a lot to be desired. History repeats: XP – Good; Vista – Bad; Windows 7 – Good; Windows 8 – admittedly not too bad but bad enough that even with my touch screen laptop I don’t want to put up with the negatives. That would be great but unfortunately I do need to upgrade my OS. I am finding that Windows 7 is not as fast as it was and I hear great things about the speed of Windows 8. If it wasn’t so expensive I might go for it in a shot, but with the odd way it shifts between modes I don’t fancy it at this price. Ubuntu on the other hand is free to me. It is also becoming mature enough to not have too many worries with using it. When it comes to mobile operating systems Windows has the major disadvantage that it is only just ahead of ubuntu. It may have been on release for a year or two but compared to iOS and Android it is a baby. Ubuntu would not have too much difficulty playing catch up considering the following that Linux has.

    I am currently using a major mishmash of different phones and computers because sticking with one phone and one computer limits me way too much. I want everything to be completely integrated so that it all works together. Android does not have a proper PC alternative; Apple have good phones and good computers but take away too much control from me; Microsoft are too busy trying to feel their way around the idea of phones to get it together quite yet, though they are definitely moving in the right direction. Ubuntu only needs to implement things slightly differently and they could find that all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. The big problem of course is that they do not have a proper business model. Because of this they will find that they are going to have to overcome all the efforts of the rich and powerful to keep them out of the way. They really need to find some way to market themselves more powerfully. They could not have done this before because their product was not mature enough; now is the time for ubuntu to really strike.