Mozilla put the first smartphone running its Firefox operating system on sale in Spain Tuesday. By throwing its hat into the ring to be the world’s third-place mobile operating system, Mozilla faces several competitors for that coveted spot, most notably from operating systems produced by BlackBerry and Microsoft.
Why third place? First place and second place are pretty well locked up right now, as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS account for a stunning portion of the world’s mobile marketshare. According to analysis from International Data Corp. released in May, the two accounted for 92.3 percent of the world’s global smartphone shipments in the first quarter of 2013.
With figures like that, it may not seem quite worth it for companies, or customers, to invest in smartphone platforms for such a comparatively small portion of the market. Many have certainly found it easier to close or all but abandon their in-house systems. Samsung’s bada, Nokia’s Symbian, Intel’s Mobiln and HP’s webOS are all examples of systems that fell off their companies’ priority lists after failing to gain much traction.
Yet while it may be difficult, if not impossible, to unseat either Android or Apple in the near future, there is still an argument to be made for supporting a strong third-place option. Carriers, for example, want a third option in operating systems, and have lent their support to Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Samsung’s open Tizen platform and (overseas, at least) Firefox because it leaves them less beholden to companies such as Apple and Google.
That’s something consumers should think about as well. Choice, after all is a good thing. Say, for example, you don’t like Apple’s generally closed policies toward app development, or are worried about security risks that come with Android’s open system. Should it be a given that you have to opt for one or the other?
This issue is particularly interesting to look at in markets that haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon quite the way the U.S. has. A look at the countries where Firefox is planning its releases for its $90 phone — Spain, Colombia, Poland and Venezuela — show that it has an eye on newer smartphone buyers who may not be ready to commit to the high cost of an iPhone or premium Android smartphone right off the bat.
These are some of the most valuable customers in the smartphone world, because they hold nearly all the growth potential for smartphone firms. Offering a viable third choice, even if it doesn’t have much chance of unseating numbers one and two worldwide, means more competition. That, in turn, normally means good things for consumers, such as more innovation and — just maybe — lower prices.
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