Right now in the mobile world when it comes to operating system choice it is decidedly a two-horse race. Based upon sell-through numbers over the past year, Android and iOS are so far ahead of the competition, it seems like they are the only ones racing. Of course, there are alternatives. Microsoft has actually been able to raise their marketshare a tiny amount, but Blackberry has continued to decline.

This near-duopoly is likely not good for the mobile world as a whole, as it detracts from consumer choice and could eventually stifle competition (although right now the rivalry between Android and iOS has propelled it forward). Luckily, starting this year we might see some new entries into the mobile landscape come forward to challenge the primary leaders. Some of these players are not at all surprising, and have been trying to break into this market for a while, but we do have a couple of surprise entrants. More than likely these new players won't be able to make much of a dent in 2013, but it is a start. If any of these alternatives gain traction, we could start seeing changes in the mobile landscape as early as next year. Here's a breakdown of most of the players below with their developer next to them.
  • Android - Google
  • iOS - Apple
  • Windows Phone 8 - Microsoft
  • Blackberry - Blackberry
  • Tizen - Samsung
  • Alibaba - from the Alibaba Group
  • Firefox - Mozilla
  • Sailfish - Jolla

Update: We realized we forgot to mention Ubuntu. This is another open source alternative that received some attention not too long ago, but we haven't heard much about recently. Because it is open source it's possible it could get interest from manufacturers. Here's a link to it just for the curious: Ubuntu for phones | Ubuntu

The story for the first few is mostly a known quantity. Blackberry is on a rapid decline and has been for the last two years. Android took the global crown from iOS, but iOS is still a strong close second. Windows Phone is still a distant third to Android and iOS, but they have recently gained marketshare, which is a good sign.

We have been hearing rumblings about Samsung's Tizen for quite some time. This OS was jointly developed with Intel, so it definitely has some serious potential with big backers like these two juggernauts. More than likely we will be seeing a phone with the Tizen OS hit retail shelves sometime in August of this year. This OS is the one most likely to give chase to the dominant players.

We have heard of Alibaba before as well. This is the mobile OS from a company in China called the Alibaba group which previously became controversial because they were apparently stealing a large portion of their OS from Android. At one time Acer was going to put out a phone with the Alibaba OS, but Google asked them not to because it would violate the licensing agreements Acer has with Google for Android. Alibaba is moving forward with their revamped version and if they gain any traction it will be in the lucrative Chinese market. Google has had some problems in this market. They pulled their search out of the country due to censorship issues with the Chinese government. Because of this many of their services, like Google Maps, the Google Play Store and GMail do not work on Android phones there. This is a potential opportunity for Alibaba and where they will likely see the best success. They will have a hard time competing in international markets, however, and will likely never make it into the U.S. due to security concerns from the U.S. government.

The two newest mobile OS alternatives will be the Firefox Mobile OS from Mozilla and the Sailfish Mobile OS from Jolla. These are the smallest fish in this very big sea, but they have some potential trump cards which could help them gain ground against the major players. For Jolla, their Sailfish OS will focus heavily on security, since this is sometimes a "perceived" problem with Android and iOS.

Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox web browser have been steadily working hard on their Firefox Mobile OS. They have a good shot at gaining marketshare on name alone, especially if they can make an OS that distinguishes them from the crowd.

Ultimately, it's great to see these mobile OS alternatives, and it is possible this year will mark the rise of a new mobile OS war. The one thing that will make or break any of them is apps. If any of these OS alternatives can offer a compelling experience and access to a wide bevy of useful apps, then we might see one of them challenge the dominance of Android and iOS. Until that happens, more than likely it will continue to be a two-horse race.

Here's a great video article from the WSJ discussing some of these new mobile OS alternatives: Video - The Quest for Alternative Mobile Operating Systems - WSJ.com