Multiple contenders aim to become the third smartphone ecosystem.
Smartphones continued to be the fastest growing consumer electronics category globally in 2012. While total handset shipments were more or less flat at 1.6 billion units, smartphone shipments increased 47 percent year-on-year to 690 million units. In Western Europe, North America and China, about 60–70 percent of all new handsets sold in 2012 were smartphones. The global active installed base of smartphones grew to 1.2 billion units at the end of 2012, which is about 23 percent of all mobile phones in use. At the end of 2012, smartphone adoption – i.e. the share of all handsets in use – had reached over 50 percent in North America, nearly 50 percent in the EU15+2 and over 40 percent in the EU27+2.
Two smartphone platforms – Android and iOS – have established themselves as the clear market leaders in only about five years. Worldwide, Android and iOS held nearly 85 percent combined market share in 2012 in terms of unit shipments and almost 75 percent combined market share in terms of active users. A number of players are now trying to become the third smartphone ecosystem. As Nokia and Microsoft seem to slowly gain adoption of the Windows Phone platform by launching new devices across more price points in more markets. Newly rebranded BlackBerry also reports encouraging reception of its new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone based on the BlackBerry 10 platform that was unveiled at the end of January 2013.
A number of additional Linux-based smartphone platforms were also on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February 2013. Samsung, one of the main backers of the Tizen platform together with Intel, showed a developer handset running the new Tizen 2.0 platform. Samsung plans to release several Tizen handsets in 2013 and even replace its proprietary Bada OS that has gained relatively little support in developed markets. Other notable supporters of Tizen include Fujitsu, Huawei, NEC, Panasonic, KT, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Sprint, SK Telekom and Vodafone.
The Mozilla Foundation, which supports the development of the open source Firefox browser, has also managed to gain strong support for its new HTML5-based smartphone platform aimed at low cost handsets. Global operators including América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom aim to offer handsets from vendors comprising Alcatel, LG and ZTE from mid-2013. Huawei intends to release a Firefox OS smartphone later in 2013 and Sony will follow in 2014.
While Firefox OS may be primarily addressing the low-end smartphone segment, two other companies demonstrated platforms aimed at the mid- and high-end of the market. In the second half of 2013, the new Finnish smartphone vendor Jolla plans to offer smartphones using its Sailfish OS, which is based on Mer OS, a Linux distribution with default UI using Qt/QML and HTML5 technologies. Canonical, a privately held software company that backs the Ubuntu Linux distribution for PCs, showcased Ubuntu for smartphones and tablets at MWC. The first Ubuntu smartphones from unnamed vendors will supposedly be available in 2013.
2013 can well turn out to be a good year for consumer choice.