The year 2013 will see the arrival of several new smartphone operating systems. This article is my first overview to the new arrivals, what do I think of Ubuntu Linux, Firefox, Sailfish or Tizen?
Some might think this is ‘too late’ and that the market is ‘already settled’ into the duopoly that is Google’s Android, and Apple’s iOS (according to Strategy Analytics held 92% of the smartphone market in Q4 2012. My estimations have the pair with a little bit less). That may seem reasonable, until you understand the scale of the market and the near future. Smartphones sold a little over 700 million units in 2012, up 45% from just one year before. Smartphones now sell about twice the level that personal computers of all type sell per year (that includes the tablet PCs like the iPad), and almost three times as many as television sets globally. This must be ‘too late’ for a new operating system to enter and become big, isn’t it?
Understating the Sheer Scale of Smartphone and Mobile Industry
No its not. The total global handset industry sells about 1.8 billion handsets per year (e.g. most of those were still ‘dumbphones’ in 2012.) The handset industry experts now agree with my originally quite radical view that all handsets would become ‘smartphones’. This transition will be completed (in new handset sales, not in installed base) before this decade is done. The annual sales of handsets will likely stabilize near the 2 Billion per year level, so we have something near 1.3 Billion annual sales growth for smartphones – almost two times as the total market size in 2012.
This IS the right time to get in, if you ever wanted to be a major player in smartphones, whether on the hardware or the software and operating system size. During 2013 will we be somewhere near 1 Billion smartphone sales. After that, it will become increasingly hard to break into the market, and probably by 2015 it will be too late.
What’s new in Google Android? The small-scale project is currently the largest mobile OS on the planet.
Without any doubt, Android is in the driving seat. Android was powering 70% of all smartphones sold in Q3 of 2012 and Android is used by seven of the ten largest smartphone makers, while the three others in the top 10 use three separate and incompatible systems. Android is the obvious big target and Google has played the smartphone opportunity remarkably well, so far. Apple had a strong growth trajectory in gobbling up huge chunks of market share until that growth bonanza stalled two years ago, and Apple’s gains have been anemic, one or two market share points per year since. It is high time for Apple to either launch a lower-cost iPhone or else abandon any hope of being a major player in the races, and becoming a niche maker similar to what RIM/Blackberry has become. The race for the smartphone market is mostly one of low-cost mass-market mainstream basic smartphones, not the high end of the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4.
How You Win in Smartphones?
There will be lots of techie ‘experts’ who bring their ‘insights’ into explaining why one OS is better than another, why its UI is more appealing or its app selection is the winner, etc. They are clueless. We saw how badly these experts misunderstand the handset market, from all the forecasts made in 2010 about what will happen to Nokia smartphone sales in 2012 as the new Lumia Windows Phone strategy is implemented (experts had errors of the scale of 200% and more, the worst ‘expert’ organization had a forecasting error of 332%!!!). That is not an isolated example, I will shortly be reporting on how badly the tech pundits and experts misjudged the launch of Windows Phone and the Microsoft market share for 2012 (errors up to 400%).
Smartphones may look like tiny pocket-sized computers; so many PC industry experts are quick to offer their ‘insights’. They do not know that this industry operates on totally different market rules than the PC market. Handsets are technically approved, and supported by the carriers/operators, who act as gate-keepers to all markets. If you do not have carrier support, you cannot win in a market. Remember Microsoft’s Kin (the phone that died in six weeks from launch)?
In smartphones the best handset or best operating system or best app store does not win. They all are important, yes, but they are not the key to winning. Else in 2010, Apple’s iPhone would have crushed Nokia’s Symbian, because by every measure, in 2010, the iPhone was the better smartphone than then-current Nokia flagship, the N97; the iOS was far better than Nokia’s first iteration of its aging Symbian OS attempting to do touch-screen; and the Apple iPhone App Store had more apps than Nokia’s Ovi store. Why then did Nokia outsell Apple by 2 to 1, and more importantly, Apple grew 22.4 million smartphone unit sales from 2009 to 2010, but Nokia grew 35.8 million. How is it possible that a clearly inferior product line, on an inferior OS and UI, and a smaller app environment, can grow more than the better one? It’s not about whose phone or OS is better in smartphones. It’s all about the carrier relationships (and related retail distribution). Nokia had by far the best carrier relations and retail distribution in the mobile handset industry at the time, Apple did not. Nokia was able to sell an inferior product but get bigger growth – because of carrier relations and distribution.
Again, this is no anomaly. Look at Palm and the WebOS, the best smartphone and OS this side of an iPhone. It died. Being best does not give you the world. Or Samsung’s bada – my apologies to all my Samsung friends, but bada was hardly the most exciting most advanced most capable OS. Yet it sold 20 million units in 2012. Why? Because Samsung currently has the best carrier relationships and widest distribution channel reach of any handset maker in the world.
Please do not misunderstand. We’re not saying the handset design doesn’t matter, that the user interface doesn’t matter or the app store doesn’t matter etc. They will not decide your success. The decisive factor is carrier support and the second most important factor is resale distribution deals. Of course a good OS is better than having a bad one, that the iOS is so user-friendly that a 3 year old understands how to use an iPhone, and so does a 93 year old, without reading any user manuals – that is why Apple’s iPhone has such fiercely loyal customer retention rates. But that is mostly loyalty and retention. The key to gaining market share – especially for a new brand – is carrier support and retail distribution. Carrier backlash is one of the biggest reasons that caused decline of Blackberry sales in the past two years. Carrier support is why Huawei has been so successful in gaining big chunks of market share globally (partly helped by the fact that Huawei can bundle handsets in a network equipment deal, like Nokia and Ericsson often did in the 1990s).
Ubuntu – A Non-starter
Introducing Ubuntu for Phones. An Industry proposition video by Mark Shuttleworth
First up, Ubuntu. The Linux based open source OS with strong African roots is celebrated by many tech fans and PC experts as an obvious choice for smartphone makers, especially those sick and tired of the Microsoft Windows dominance on the PC side, and suggesting that PC makers should feel a natural affinity to the OS. Yeah, well, you don’t win by having an OS that is popular on the far smaller desktop world; else Windows would have 90% of the smartphones market. Rather, after literally a decade of trying, Microsoft’s smartphone platform has managed a peak of 12% global market share and today lingers at 2%. There is no ‘synergy’ between the desktop and the pocket. HP was the latest victim to discover this when it tried to create some synergy for Palm that it bought, using WebOS, and the world’s bestselling PC brand, HP. Lenovo learned this lesson, it released its smartphones using Android instead, and in one year climbed into the Top 10 biggest smartphone makers, and now, in Q4 is ranked either 5th or 6th.
Ubuntu will need two big hurdles. First, it needs support by major handset makers; it should attract at least one of the Top 10 manufacturers, preferably more than one, to have any chance. They, the handset makers, have to commit to a couple of handsets that run Ubuntu OS, and then – the most difficult hurdle, Ubuntu needs to secure carrier support where several significant carriers agree to support the new handsets using Ubuntu. This is not an impossible task but it is a huge task. The schedule for Ubuntu calls for first phones to be available about a year from now. This is why I am not currently taking Ubuntu smartphone aspirations very seriously (yet). They have to get these deals into place, to even be ‘entered into the race’. They are like someone in the Olympics, who is not even allowed to line up to the starting gate yet. Ubuntu has not qualified for this contest. They might do it, they have to hurry, but so far, they haven’t.
Firefox – A Very Dark Horse
Introducing Firefox OS video on a prototype manufactured by ZTE.
Then we have Firefox. The web browser company Mozilla has been working on its smartphone OS, as an open source HTML based platform, and has been making the early needed steps. ZTE, a Top 10 sized smartphone maker has announced it will introduce a Firefox based smartphone now in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. There is a tiny start-up smartphone maker Geeksphone of Spain who has announced two Firefox based smartphones. So there is a little bit of handset manufacturer support but the handset offering is still slim. Meanwhile, bigger hurdle is the carrier support. That’s simply not present (yet). There is some gossip that ‘a European carrier’ might be interested and KDDI of Japan has said it is looking into possibly doing some Firefox in its smartphone offering, but no carrier deals yet. But Firefox has achieved ‘support’ by a good list of carriers such as Telefonica, TIM, T-Mobile, Sprint, Etisalat, Smart and Telenor. That is not the same as a carrier actually launching the phone and is a far cry from selling it in its stores or offering any handset subsidies to the smartphones. But Firefox does have handsets coming now, and many carriers are in discussions. Firefox could be a dark horse to have a tiny slice of this pie going into 2014.
Sailfish (e.g. MeeGo 2.0 Version A): The Pretender
A 36 minute introduction video to Jolla’s new operating system – meet Sailfish OS and its UI.
Jolla the Finnish start-up made of ex-Nokia staff from the killed MeeGo/Maemo project is in a similar stage as Firefox, but on a very different trajectory. Jolla is stepping into the shoes vacated by Nokia in abandoning the hugely admired N9 and N950 smartphones running MeeGo. The N9 is the most heralded Nokia smartphone of all time and the only one that regularly beat the iPhone in side-by-side tests by major handset magazines and comparison websites. The N9 was headed to huge global success, until bizarrely the Nokia CEO decided it will not be sold in any major markets and will not be allowed to compete against the iPhone for example not being sold in the USA, UK, and Germany etc. The N9 running MeeGo won the world’s most prestigious technology design awards the D&AD Award in 2012, beating Apple’s brand new iPad 2 among its rivals for the award. The German weekly newsmagazine Der Stern loved the N9 so much, it encouraged its readers to fly to other countries like Switzerland and Austria to buy an N9, it was that good in the magazine’s opinion (yet Nokia refused to sell it in Germany??). And as Nokia refused to sell the sister phone, the N950 anywhere – only producing a very tiny run of the device, its second hand resale prices are above a thousand Euros. Nokia had a huge flagship hit product on its hands, when it had the N9 and N950 running MeeGo, yet Nokia abandoned this massive tech lead. We leave you to conclude whose ego got boasted in the process.
Enter Jolla. The company was formed with the help of Nokia’s employee departure program and some seed funding, and took the insights and design ideas that the MeeGo/Maemo team had with the N9, N950 and other MeeGo devices, and builds upon that. Their new Sailfish OS is an evolution past MeeGo, still as an open source Linux based OS, and one could think of Sailfish as a kind of MeeGo 2.0 (version A). Sailfish is compatible with the (formerly Nokia owned) Qt application development tools and some gossip suggests the similarity between Sailfish and Android is so close; many Android apps can run natively on Sailfish. If so, Sailfish would almost overnight jump over that hurdle of ‘how many apps do you have’ and inherit a part in the biggest app environment that Android is now becoming, passing the iPhone App Store.
The point with Jolla is, that it is not attempting (at least initially) to be a mass market brand and platform, but rather a premium OS at the high end of the market, competing with the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, perhaps even aiming into the price stratosphere where Vertu exists. Considering how strong the passions were for the N9 and N950 and as the N9 was the only smartphone by ANY BRAND that regularly beat the iPhone in side-by-side tests, this is not a hopeless fantasy. The Jolla employs about a 100 employees, essentially the same people that made the heart of Nokia’s MeeGo team. So what we will later this year see from Jolla’s first smartphone(s) are what probably could have been the ‘follow-up’ to the N9. The first Jolla phone may well be the ultimate superphone of year 2013 and get massive attention because of that.
Then – their business model. To price the Jolla high enough to be able to skim those profits and slice a piece of the high-end that Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy own. Jolla doesn’t need to sell 10 million in the first year to be successful and become viable in the midterm. If the Sailfish OS starts to win all sorts of comparisons vs. the iPhone, there may be more makers joining the Sailfish family. So for Jolla, the definition of success is quite different from most others on this list. They are not even attempting a mass market play, they know from the start, they hold a premium platform and they intend to fight for the top end of the market, not the bottom end. Think Ferrari, not a Kia.
Which brings us to their handset partners? We just heard that Chinese smartphone maker Zopo has decided to launch smartphones on Sailfish to sell in India. Are there carriers? The first one is signed up; Finland’s DNA is committed to launching Jolla’s first smartphone(s) in Finland. Yes, Finland only has 5.3 million people and DNA is the smallest of the three carriers in Finland but still, this is a real live carrier deal already signed up. And you can bet your bottom dollar that fiercely patriotic Finns will flock to Jolla to buy their first-ever smartphone, if it is anywhere near as good a follow-up to the N9 as we might expect. Distribution deals? China’s D.Phone, the largest handset store/distributor has signed up a deal to sell Jolla’s smartphones in China. As China Mobile was a partner with MeeGo, there must be at least implied support from the world’s largest mobile operator/carrier who counts one out of every 8 existing mobile phone users as its customer in the world – the carrier which alone is bigger than Sprint, plus AT&T, plus Verizon, plus T-Mobile USA, combined (actually, double the whole installed USA user base).
Jolla’s road is not secure, Sailfish has a big task ahead of itself, but for its early steps, it has already one handset partner, it has already signed its first carrier deal and has its first independent distribution deal. The Sailfish OS is already set to launch in China and India, the two largest mobile handset markets in the world. Jolla doesn’t need to achieve huge success on this path, to make a splash globally and get the attention they want, to survive into 2014 and beyond. Will Sailfish reach 1% this year or even next, probably not, but they don’t need to. They know they are a niche player at the luxury end. If they can do a million per quarter, that’s enough for now and grow from there. If we find someone at the bottom end of the Top 10, wanting to differentiate from Android, with a high quality OS, we could suddenly find that someone like ZTE or Lenovo or LG suddenly announce their premium line will be powered by Sailfish. But that would look more into 2014 than 2013?
Tizen (e.g. MeeGo 2.0 Version B): The Contender
Tizen HTML5/CSS3 demos shower on Tizentalk, a dedicated developer channel
There is no sure things in mobile industry. But Tizen is the nearest thing to a sure thing, in smartphones. Why? First, because this is the big scale relaunch of MeeGo. MeeGo was a joint project by Nokia (Maemo OS), merged with Intel’s Moblin, both Linux based open source smartphone OS projects. So when Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop suddenly announced on 11 February that Nokia was quitting the MeeGo path to its future and selecting Windows instead (Intel’s CEO was apparently informed literally on the night before the announcement! Talk about arrogance), Intel rushed to rescue the project and find a new handset partner. And if you lose the world’s largest handset maker, who would you, prefer to have to replace it? With one that has the biggest market share. Thus, Intel found its new partner in Samsung Mobile. The project was renamed Tizen, it now includes both Linux and HTML in its code and is still an open source OS project, of course and merges also Samsung’s own in-house bada OS project efforts.
Samsung’s bada has been a stealth success story. Many in the West are quick to dismiss it, because they haven’t seen any bada smartphones in the USA or the UK… They think it has failed. Meanwhile bada has been a considerable ‘third ecosystem’ success from Russia to France to India to Brazil. Bada has achieved nearly 30 million cumulative sales in its first 2 years. That is more than the iPhone did in its first two years! Yes, bada is the most successful new smartphone OS launch in history! But because most of the sales were in Emerging World countries – at low price points where bada was targeted – most Western analysts have ignored bada, and often do not even mention it as a major OS rival. But let me repeat, in the first two years, bada has sold more smartphones than Apple was able to sell iPhone in its first two years. Why? Because Samsung has the world’s best carrier relationships and retail distribution now that Nokia has shot itself in the foot and Samsung has easily stepped in, smoothly taking over whatever Nokia has abandoned. Samsung has literally today the best carrier relationships and the widest distribution reach in handsets.
For Tizen, consider bada as the ‘practice run’. Samsung has previously used operating systems made by others – Nokia’s Symbian, Microsoft’s Windows; Google’s Android etc. bada was their first attempt to launch a low-end, low cost OS. Bada was intended to be Samsung’s own OS and they didn’t try very hard to win handset manufacturer partners to join in the ‘ecosystem’. This is all different with Intel now and Tizen. Intel back from the days of Moblin, and with Nokia and MeeGo, had already secured handset maker partners and Tizen’s Board includes Fujitsu, NEC, Panasonic and Huawei in addition to Intel and Samsung among handset manufacturers. More critically, what of carrier support? The Tizen Board includes NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Sprint, Vodafone, Korea Telecom and SK Telecom.
These are not ‘supporters’ of an OS who like it and will test it or consider it. These are Board Members on the OS, who are committed to developing Tizen. The handset manufacturers cover 40% of all smartphones sold in the world (mostly currently on Android). The carriers that are represented on Tizen’s Board cover 11% of the total mobile subscriber base on the planet.
If you take the technical excellence that Nokia and Intel managed to produce with the first release of MeeGo and the first two handsets, N9 and N950 (while the new Nokia CEO was torpedoing every step of the launch) – and we add two years of further development, by Intel and Samsung – Tizen is likely to be a true generational leap beyond ‘the operating system considered better than iOS’. When Samsung is winning all sorts of awards with the Galaxy series, and now gets to launch its flagship OS, Tizen, you can expect the first Tizen based Samsung smartphones to be glorious. When we see that in its ‘practice run’ of bada, Samsung was able to sell more bada smartphones in the first two years, than Apple in its high-profile media extravaganza that was the iPhone from 2007, and now Samsung gets to take all that and do better with Tizen, expect some fireworks. And that is, before we add in Huawei, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker. And we add Fujitsu and Panasonic, both past Top 10 smartphone makers from Japan who are eager to return to the world stage and make similar profits with smartphones as tech giants rivals like Samsung, LG, Apple, Lenovo etc have done recently. Samsung and Huawei have promised first Tizen phones out this year. Samsung specifically has promised multiple Tizen phones and there is a tech spec of a Galaxy version running Tizen.
The operators/carriers have frequently been saying they would welcome a third ecosystem alongside Android and the iPhone. Windows Phone cannot become that because carriers hate and fear Skype (don’t argue this point, Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop himself said so to Nokia’s shareholder meeting, that carriers don’t like Microsoft because of Skype, adding ‘of course’). Carriers also don’t like Blackberry for the cannibalization of messaging by the BBM system and how RIM/Blackberry has been ‘too secure’ and bypassing carrier systems. Samsung and Intel understand carrier concerns – why else have six carriers joining six equipment makers on the Tizen Board? Of any new OS, Tizen is BY FAR the most carrier-friendly and least threatening OS. Expect the carriers to warmly embrace Tizen this year and for Samsung to offer a lot of choice in its smartphones, many ‘sister’ devices, where they run Android or Tizen, and often carriers starting to push the Tizen variants. Again, Samsung knows now how to play this game, just this past week we heard of the Telegraph survey of UK retail, finding that when their undercover shoppers visited UK handset retailers, the most offered phones were Samsung Galaxies, even ahead of the iPhone.
Like I said, there are no guarantees. If the first Tizen phones are dogs, or have severe bugs, or Samsung has some PR fiasco with carriers etc, the picture might change fast. But by current view, Tizen is set to exceed the performance of bada, and very importantly, differing from bada, Tizen to launch in all markets including the two most advanced smartphone markets, Japan and South Korea with major carrier support in both.
Tizen could hit 2% market share per quarter by the end of this year and easily rise to something like 5% market share by end of 2014. If so, Tizen would rather easily become the Third Ecosystem and then gradually grow to something near 10% in the next few years. Note that most of Tizen’s gains would come directly from Android. Still, if you remove 10% from Android’s 70% now, it still leaves Google as the Gorilla of mobile, with 60% and at least 3 times bigger than number 2 (iPhone) and 6 times bigger than number 3 (Tizen). Hardly a ‘threat’ to Google and Android dominance… But Tizen is likely to put an end to any hopes Blackberry or Windows have of ever becoming the third ecosystem…
Blackberry Relegated to Also Ran
BlackBerry 10 preview
BB10 is obviously not a new platform as such; it’s a new release of the oldest surviving platform play in smartphones. The first Blackberry smartphone came out in 2001 and all its contemporaries have died or been killed like Palm and Symbian. Windows didn’t enter the smartphone wars until later in the decade. So now we’ve just seen BB10. The phones look new and modern, the OS looks good. But there is nothing radical, no great leap ahead. This new fresh OS was desperately needed to stem the decline. But it, and the first 2 phones shown, is not enough to vault Blackberry back into contention for major position in smartphones. Just four years ago Blackberries had over 20% market share globally. Now the Beebee lingers at 3%. In fact, Blackberry’s collapse ranks as the 7th fastest handset collapse in history. This new BB10 is no silver bullet to restore Blackberry to 20% market share or even half that. Blackberry’s decline hopefully has ended. If they have good headwinds in Waterloo this year, BB might end the year near 5% market share, more likely they will be near the 3% they are today. Blackberry had its chance; it blew it by taking the eyes off the ball, and focusing its limited marketing efforts to launch the ill-fated tablet… That chance is forever gone and Blackberry is now relegated to forever being a niche player, serving the enterprise segment of smartphones. Profitable business – but one that’s not growing as fast as the overall industry.
Windows Phone 8
And what of our ‘darling’, WP8, which was promised by so many ‘experts’ to now hold something like 20% market share and was supposed to be the ‘third ecosystem’ and to challenge or by some ‘experts’ even pass the iPhone in sales, especially after Nokia joined in the ‘partnership’. Yeah. That all went tits up. Windows had 12% market share in smartphones in 2007. It was down to 5% in 2010. Windows market share was down to 2% in 2011 and now that Nokia has launched 9 Lumia smartphones, supported by the world’s largest smartphone launch marketing budget, joined by massive marketing support by Microsoft, and added to by the biggest handset launch budgets ever by some of the carriers like AT&T in the USA – what is Windows market share in smartphones now? In 2012 it was… 2%. Windows Phone is failing comprehensively.
Nokia’s CEO took Nokia’s 35% market share with Symbian in 2010, and forcibly migrated it to Windows Phone. How many took this gambit? 2%. 1% is still left on Symbian as of Q4 of 2012, so 32% of Nokia’s loyal customers have rather run away, taking an Android based smartphone like Samsung’s Galaxy, or Apple’s iPhone instead of taking the Lumia. And what of those who actually took the Lumia? The independent Yankee Group survey of customer satisfaction of USA based Lumia owners found that 4 out of 10 hated the phone so much, they rated it worst phone they’ve ever seen. And the brand new Bernstein loyalty survey of smartphone owners in USA and UK, found that the Windows Phone loyalty is so bad, two out of three will never buy another Windows Phone based smartphone again. The Windows Phone experiment has failed and is a dead man walking, only surviving as long as Nokia exists as a smartphone maker with Elop as its CEO (we have an Elop Firing Watch on this blog, counting down to when he is fired or Nokia itself is sold).
Almost all past Windows partners have already given up on Windows including Sony, Motorola, LG, Dell, Palm, etc – and of the last who remain, they cut their Windows offering like HTC and Samsung or postpone their first launches and cut their intended WP8 product lines like Huawei and ZTE. Most of the remaining Windows Phone ‘partners’ have other preferred new OS projects they now prioritize, from Tizen to Firefox. And if Nokia’s CEO Elop is fired, his successor will no doubt almost instantly announce the end of Windows Phone and a shift to Android.
There are those who say ‘but synergy’ with Windows 8 on the desktop. Yeah. Where have we heard that before? Like with Windows Mobile. Like with Windows Phone 6. Like with Windows Phone 7. Like with Symbian – when he was still at Microsoft, Stephen Elop negotiated that ‘partnership’ where all Microsoft Office suite apps were made compatible with Symbian and Nokia E-Series. What good did that ‘synergy’ get the two tech giants? Absolutely nothing. There probably IS some synergy from the desktop to the laptop to netbooks to tablet PCs. Yes, maybe Microsoft’s Surface tablet can benefit from Windows 8 ‘synergy’ but on smartphones we have one decade of evidence that it doesn’t matter one iota. Windows has been the slowly dying operating system of smartphones, only kept alive by continued cash injections by Microsoft. All Microsoft partners who ever focused on Windows Phone have become unprofitable doing so, and only recovered to profits by abandoning the Windows path, from Sendo (bankrupted) to Motorola (bankrupted) to LG (recovered) to HTC (recovered). Windows ‘life span’ in smartphones continues only as long as Nokia CEO continues on his borrowed time. And as to Microsoft building its own smartphones – yeah, they tried that once before, remember Kin the world-record in market failure of a new handset launch, died in six weeks? What killed Kin was utter lack of carrier support. The carriers hate Microsoft, they fear Microsoft, they hate Skype, they don’t trust Ballmer, they’d be idiots to go to bed with the company that always drives its ‘partners’ to bankrup