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Four smartphone OSs fighting for survival

Howard Wen | Sept. 3, 2014
The smartphone operating system market is dominated by Android and iOS, but you can never count out Microsoft, so let's say that Windows Phone, despite lagging in market share, rounds out the Big Three.

The smartphone operating system market is dominated by Android and iOS, but you can never count out Microsoft, so let's say that Windows Phone, despite lagging in market share, rounds out the Big Three.

(According to the latest numbers from IDC, Android's global market share in the second quarter of 2014 was 85%, following by iOS at 12% and Windows at 2.5%.)

That leaves four other smartphone operating systems fighting for survival. The odds that any of them will threaten the market leaders are pretty slim, but the companies behind them are pressing on. They may be looking to gain a foothold selling cheap smartphones in so-called emerging markets; hedging against the control that Apple, Google and Microsoft are wielding; or simply figuring that they have nothing left to lose.((

Here's what the other four smartphone OSs have been up to lately and what their strategies for survival are.

1. BlackBerry: Cool to be square

BlackBerry OS is now in an epic struggle against Windows Phone for third place when it comes to U.S. market share, but, of course, BlackBerry has been on a long, downward slide. In 2009, Blackberry's market share was north of 50%.

The BlackBerry company has refocused on selling their devices and services to their traditional business and government clientele, including launching an enterprise-secure messenger, BBM Protected, for the BlackBerry OS.

In June, BlackBerry announced that the Amazon Appstore would be included with BlackBerry 10.3 when the OS is released this fall. (BlackBerry 10 can already run most Android apps.) The company's own app store, BlackBerry World, will remain active but has stopped selling movie, music and TV downloads.

As for hardware, an entry-level smartphone, the Z3, was released in late June (first in India and Indonesia). The BlackBerry Classic (coming possibly in November) will be an update of the familiar BlackBerry phone with a built-in physical keypad, while the BlackBerry Passport (September) — which will also have a physical keypad — will have a much larger and oddly square-shaped form factor.

In June, the company reported a profit in its first fiscal quarter, which is good news. The not-so-good news: Sales numbers of BlackBerry devices fell, which could lead to further eroding of BlackBerry OS' market share. At this point, the Passport's unique looks might help the OS itself stand out.

2. Firefox OS: Not available in the U.S. (except on eBay)

Firefox OS is an open-source mobile OS. It works similarly to the Android version of the Firefox browser; its apps are basically web apps. The first Firefox phone sold to the general public (as opposed to just developers), the Open, was launched last July. It remains only available in the U.S. on eBay. According to its maker, ZTE, the phone has sold more than 100,000 units worldwide, but several user reviews pointed to a buggy device prone to crashing.

 

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