Beyond Android and iOS: The top six mobile operating system alternatives

Beyond Android and iOS: The top six mobile operating system alternatives

Summary: There is a world of operating systems beyond Android and iOS. Will any of them lock down third place? Can any of them give Google or Apple a run for the top spots?


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  • It's a mobile, mobile, mobile world

    When you look at Mary Meeker's predictions for the Internet, anyone can see that the future of personal computing belongs to smartphones and tablets. Beginning in 2010, their sales left PC sales behind in their dust. By 2013, over four times as many smartphones were being sold as PCs, both desktop and laptop. Tablets were right behind smartphones. Looking ahead, Meeker smartphone and tablets only increasing their lead.

    On these devices, Android rules followed by Apple iOS. The real battle is for third place. Who will take the number three spot is still an open question. Here are the real contenders. I've placed them in the order of what I consider their chances are of taking the third spot.

    There are some that are no longer in the race at all. WebOS, for example, looked like a contender at one time, but it was pulled from mobile devices by its one time owner HP. Under its new owner, LG, webOS has found a new life as a Smart TV operating system, but LG seems to have no interest in entering the crowded smartphone and tablet market.

    Now, with no further adieu, let's start with the least likely of the mobile operating systems to make a splash in the coming years.

  • BlackBerry OS 10

    If BlackBerry as a  company had not stood pat when it owned the business phone market, we'd be talking today about whether anyone could ever catch them. Fortunately for Apple and Google, BlackBerry blew it. By early 2013, when the company's QNX embedded Unix-based BlackBerry 10 OS finally arrived it was too little, too late.

    I think it says it all, the BlackBerry's greatest hope for gaining fans is by making it easier to install and use Android apps on it.

    The chances that BlackBerry OS 10 will ever be number three? I'd say one in a hundred. Chances that BlackBerry will finally close its door by the end of 2016? I'd say one in five.

Topics: Mobility, Microsoft, Ubuntu, Tablets, Smartphones, Samsung, BlackBerry, Operating Systems, Mobile OS, Windows Phone

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  • I know people who use

    Windows Phone because it's 'the little guy' - this article just gave them 5 other things to switch to, each with less and less mainstream cred. And for some people, that's a quality all on its own.
    luke mayson
    • no joke

      Just when we begin to think the jokers in the zdnet pack could not sound any sillier than Matt, out comes SJVN with no joke, Microsoft considering ditching windows for android, well, suppose it does not go astray a hell of a sense of humour, ever considered or is it your position on zdnet to be the resident comedian SJ, you are so funny me believes u may have missed your true calling nonetheless keep it up, a good heartfelt laugh does us all good, thanks.
      • " I can't even imagine a world where it could rise to second "

        WP is already second in many markets , its just a matter of time... WP is rising while and iOS is falling

        The market right now is in developing countries and with this wave of low cost WP devices i see a nice grow in WP future
    • The problem is ....

      when you add up the stated odds for the 5 main contenders for third spot, you get more than 1, which means it is MORE than absolutely certain that one of them will make it. ;-)
  • the only one which interests me

    is FirefoxOS, and then only if the OS is as extensible as the browser.
    • The last I read of the Firefox web browser on Firefox OS

      Firefox add-ons were not supported. And I've no idea if or when this support might be coming.

      P.S. Add-on support for Firefox for Android is also considerably behind the desktop.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Wndows is too busy

    Honestly, if Windows would just give up on those awful tiles, I'd go for it on both tablet and phone. They are just plain ugly and an ADHD nightmare to look it.

    Give me a plain home screen with a wallpaper and an unobtrusive dock of apps and I'm happy.

    The rest of those mentioned, other than BB10, are really just at the demo stage right now.
    • What's so bad about the tiles?

      I find that to be my favorite part of Windows Phone. Rows of icons is plain ugly.
      • I don't get that either

        Yea, I don't get the complaints about the tiles either. The icon grid goes back to the Palm Pilot (maybe earlier) and is REALLY dated now.
        Buster Friendly
        • What's so difficult to understand

          Beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder.
          And I totally agree with Technomom_z....those tiles are damn ugly looking. Not just ugly...revolting. The only way I could tolerate the daily usage of a Windows Phone or Windows 8 desktop today is if I could customize the hell out of those tiles to force them to look less like UI elements of a 'Fisher Price toy'.
          • Like what?

            You can configure pretty much everything about them. Is all your icons being the same color that massively important to you??
            Buster Friendly
          • There's quite a bit of customization

            Options in 8.1. It would be nice if they'd let you pick individual tile cover in both windows and windows phone. I think you could make some truly good looking screens then. Especially with the clear tiles now. With the right background you can make some pretty good looking start/home screens.
          • Beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder.

            You dislike the tiles, and others like the tiles.

            The only thing you'll accomplish by countering an opinion with another opinion is an endless loop of opinions.

            Also, you don't like the Windows 8 desktop?

            Do you not like the Windows 7 desktop?
          • You're partial right

            1, 2, 10 or 100 personal opinions are just a small irrelevant number.
            The problem for the metro interface is that many seems not like it (I'm talking the majority), developers have small interest on it and even with windows tablets modem UI apps are barely used.
            I could "waste" many lines of more or less objective reasons why metro is terrible... and yes I think it's ugly too :-) .
          • The funny thing is

            that a good percentage of time that people make complaints about Windows8 (any) often contradict themselves or desire something to work a certain way... when it already does.

            It really is uncanny how many people turn out to like Windows8 once they give it a go. Almost as if the dislike of the operating system is feed by bloggers and forum bashing.

            Some people are not going to like it, which is fine. Yet some dislike it without even giving it a real try. Either way, at least it is something different than the what iOS and Android offer, which is basically windows95 desktop on a mobile phone.
          • Sometimes changing is hard

            But you are mostly wrong - my opinion.
            iOS and android shown that people were ready for a change. Mobile OSes are not like windows 95 - they are simple, no virus, stable, low on battery, installing software was never so easy, integration between apps is good, platform independence was never this big, integration with the cloud, prepared for high-res displays, ...
            Windows 8 is bad, is futile to blame the consumer, it's so bad that in my opinion is the root of the microsoft recent woes - they are behind in phones, behind in tablets, people lost interest on traditional pcs with low cost devices dominating, ... windows 9 is 2 years too late already.
          • I was saying that iOS/Android look like windows 95

            Most of the rest of your argument is correct though. People were ready for something new.

            iOS and Android were a pretty good first generation offering. However one thing has always been true in computers. Users always want their devices to do more and iOS and Android have become somewhat stagnant. Can you name the biggest features that will affect a user in either of those operating systems? I can't. Can you name what iOS/Android can do that Windows8 cannot? Again, I can't, but I can name plenty of things Windows8 can do that those operating systems cannot.

            You can say what you want about Windows8, but I can pick up any device and never have a need put it down, because I need another computer to do something it can't. Now I will be able to load the same app across any of my devices. PC, laptop, tablet, phone and console.

            Like I said, people who get away from the hyperbole spread on forums typically are surprised how much they like windows8.

            Maybe people will continue to want to buy $500 tablets and $500 notebooks to make up for the limitations of the tablets. Then again, maybe people will find out they can get everything both of those devices offer in a $400 windows hybrid.
          • The "do more" is not everything

            The do better for less money is very important.
            Traditional PCs will have a place for a long time, but it's not going the "I can do more" that will make them win over mobile.
            Windows 8 on a tablet without a keyboard and a mouse is terrible - it's not just me - form studies it seems those who bought windows tablets barely use it that way.
          • Windows8 on a tablet is just fine

            Windows8 DEKSTOP on a tablet is better with a keyboard and mouse. Again, that is an option available on any Windows8 tablet. It is not required and any user can happily go about swiping and tapping apps all day long without need for the desktop. which will be there should they need it and something not available to other tablets.

            There is a very dramatic difference in the presentation of that information you gave about Windows8 on a tablet being terrible. It would be like saying an iPad is a terrible device without a laptop to supports it limitations. It may be true in some specific situations, but as a blanket statement it is very disingenuous and misleading.

            Right now iOS/Android do less and cost more.

            They problem is if people can get past all the misinformation. Such as a Windows8 tablet "needing" a keyboard and mouse to be useful. Which is untrue. It would be like saying an iPad is a terrible device without a laptop to make up for its limitations.

            Having the expanded option to do more with a tablet should a user choose to do so is a nice benefit.

            As for the other comment, Windows tablets do actually do more and often cost less than iOS/Android devices.

            The trouble is can people get past all the misinformation and actually see what devices can offer them.
          • I use it that way everyday.

            I actually work on the desktop with "legacy" applications like Quicken and Office 2010 using nothing but touch. It is no more difficult to use that way than it was on my iPad except for one little niggle . . . my iPad couldn't run those applications. So my daughter has the iPad. But she uses a Surface RT to do ALL her school work LOL! I would also say that, despite the Retina display, HDTV actually looks better on the Windows 8 devices. I will grant you that most people probably do use a keyboard and/or a mouse when working on the desktop when it is more convenient to do so. So does everyone else (I had a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad) when doing a lot of typing. So it really isn't a valid argument because that same argument can be made of every device from Android to iOS to Windows 8 when you load a word-processor or type a longish email. The key point is that it is NOT necessary to do so and is no more difficult to accomplish in Windows 8 that in iOS of Android. And yes, I have used them ALL and still do. But after two years I have no qualms in saying that of the three Windows 8 offers the better computing platform. Each offers unique advantages over the other so the individual's needs take a higher precedence than anything else. But if your needs are general as in something that can run full applications in addition to apps, something to digest entertainment and social content, something to play games on, something to take an edit photographs on, something to store enormous amounts of data on AND make them readily available regardless of host platform, something that can be uniquely configured for your particular set of needs - there is no competition to Windows 8.
            The Heretic