Can any tablet OS challenge Android and iOS?

Can any tablet OS challenge Android and iOS?

Summary: Windows RT flopped but, seriously, is there any tablet OS that take on Android and iOS?


Based on Microsoft's latest earnings report, its Surface RT is a flop. This, in turn, means that Windows RT has failed. But, there are many other would-be tablet operating system challengers to Google's Android and Apple's iOS. Seriously, though, do any of them have a real shot?

There are hundreds of millions of tablets out there, but will any significant number of them ever run anything besides Android or iOS?

Just over a third of Americans now own tablets. As time goes on, more and more of them will be buying tablets over PCs. By 2017, market research firm NPD predicts that we'll be buying six tablets for every single notebook. Of these tablets, most experts agree it's only a matter of time before Android is on top of the tablet mountain.

That's not to say Microsoft has no hopes for the tablet form factor. I believe Microsoft has a real shot of being a viable third tablet choice if they elect to place its Windows 8.1 family operating system across all devices—PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Does anyone else have a chance? Blackberry may have given up, but there are many others who want to dethrone Android and iOS. Here, are the leading contenders in the order I rank their chances.

1) Firefox: Firefox is actually ahead of Ubuntu on smartphones with its Linux-based Firefox operating system. For applications, Firefox will rely upon Web-based HTML5 apps. It's an unproven route, but as we put more and more of our apps on the Web and the cloud, it may be a workable one. 

Unlike its other Linux-based rivals, Firefox OS smartphones, such as the Alcatel One Touch Fire and ZTE Open, are already shipping. Thanks to its Web browser, Firefox is better known outside of techie circles than Ubuntu and that's where the tablet audience lives. Mozilla, Firefox's parent organization, has long  had its eye on tablets and, partnered with Foxconn, its first engineering sample tablets have started to appear.

2) Ubuntu: Ever since Canonical introduced the Ubuntu Unity interface I thought it had the potential to be a great tablet interface. While much of the news lately has been about Ubuntu's efforts to win supporters for Ubuntu on smartphones, Canonical has big plans for the Ubuntu tablet  as well. Indeed, Ubuntu's founder, Mark Shuttleworth, has promised us that he'll be making a big announcement on July 22nd. I strongly suspect he'll be announcing major Ubuntu tablet news.

I've always been fond of Unity on devices, and I think Ubuntu has a real shot. For now, Firefox is ahead in actually shipping units. We'll see it's that still the case by year's end. 

3) Sailfish: When Nokia turned its back on the MeeGo mobile Linux project and bought into Windows Phone, five Nokia staffers started their own company, Jolla, to keep pursuing an open-source operating system approach, Sailfish OS. Unlike Mozilla and Tizen, Sailfish relies on the old Linux stand-by Qt QML, instead of HTML5 for its apps.

Sailfish is on the verge of shipping its first smartphone in the Asian market. After that, Jolla would be more than happy to ship tablets.

4) Tizen: Tizen, like Firefox is an open-source, Linux-based mobile operating system that relies on HTML5 for apps. In theory, Tizen has Samsung's support. In practice, it's been an unwanted step-child without a clear roadmap. With its first device, a Samsung smartphone, pushed back from July to the fourth quarter, I doubt Tizen will ever live up to its promise.

That's a lot of potential players in the tablet space. All of them, except Microsoft, still aren't even really ready to compete yet. Perhaps in 2015, there will be a viable third-party tablet OS, but I really can't see it happening until then. In the meantime, Android and iOS will remain the top tablet dogs.

Related Stories:

Topics: Mobility, Windows, Ubuntu, Tablets, Samsung, Android, Mobile OS, Microsoft, Linux, iPad, Google, Microsoft Surface

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  • Windows 8?

    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Don't be silly

      Windows 8 doesn't count.

      Don't ask me why though.
      • Windows 8.1 on Atom

        Sheer numbers of people making these will move the needle, just as it did for Android.
        • $

          It is only about price. For a tablet to be successful it must be low priced. Very low priced. Anything that adds cost gets multiplied by the supply chain. 0*Markup = 0. This is the lowest possible cost of the operating system.
          • millions of tablets in the $600+ range sold already

            beg to differ
          • Still negative.

            its not DEVICE price.

            Its PROFIT MARGIN. That matter for TABLET MANUFACTURER.

            If they need to put costly CPU, and then costly OS, while they could put cheaper CPU and cheaper OS..

            This is battle Intel/MS are facing in tablet space.

            And that is battle every other cometitor in this space will face. That is why OS targeting lower end have better chance for 3rd spot. Firstly highend market is becoming crowded with just Android/iOS, secondly low end is biggest market, least exploited, and easiest to enter.

            That's why after "Just over a third of Americans now own tablets" I stopped reading that text. And wont untill author change title. US is NOT big market, nor one that could serve as good prediction of what is to come. (Mobile tech first show up in Asia this days..)
          • Intel will adjust prices based on market share

            Their huge manufacturing tech lead over arm actually enables them to produce chips cheaper. Similarly MS always adjusts is licensing based on device category and can also easily compete with android on price. Remember all android device OEMs pay MS for the MS IP in android and pay license fees to google for access to google services where the equivalent MS services W8 uses are included in the OS licensing cost. Android is now only good for the near zero margin devices. Some like the kindle achieved their market share by selling below cost.
            Johnny Vegas
          • Re: Intel will adjust prices based on market share

            It is not that easy.. you say

            "Their huge manufacturing tech lead over arm actually enables them to produce chips cheaper."

            That huge and very advanced fab tech costs an awful lot of money. It made sense for the extremely expensive ($1000++) Xeon chips Intel produces, but makes absolutely no sense for the chips that need to go into mobile devices, because these most of all must be cheap.
            There is no way Intel can sell their chips cheap and still be able to pay for that advanced fabs.
          • part two

            ARM is designed for cheap manufacture, x86 not. This is the x86 drama, not power consumption, not performance. Even in the datacenter, the current trend is power efficiency and there too, ARM has edge. And not only ARM, but most non-x86 architectures too. When you run cloud applications, the server CPU architecture is pretty much irrelevant to the client -- it will run what the server owner considers more cost efficient and this again... is not x86.

            Intel, just like Microsoft have been too arrogant for too long -- which reduced their ability to react to market share, as you would expect.
          • x86 at Disadvantage

            danbi has already covered a lot of this. Intel is at a disadvantage against ARM (and even MIPS and Power) for the mobile market as long as they persist with x86 technology.

            x86 is a CISC design. At one time people thought that RISC based architectures would make CISC obsolete. It has been discovered that this is not the case in a general sense as long as you have plenty of power (as in watts) and active cooling to throw at CISC chips. Under those conditions they can be quite competitive with RISC based chips.

            However, when power efficiency and heat efficiency start to become more important, as with mobile devices, RISC based architectures gain a distinct advantage. In order to compete on this front, CISC chips have to be produced with a significantly better fabrication process. Intel's superior fabrication facilities are needed just to put their chips on par with the competition on the mobile front, so they lose their advantage.

            If Intel were to manufacture RISC based chips for mobile devices with their fabrication processes, then it would give them an advantage. However, the time spent on development (even if they licensed an existing RISC technology) and the volume required to make this work, combined with the low price at which these chips sell make this a questionable course. Still, I would think that at some point Intel will have to come out with some kind of RISC design in order to maintain its competitiveness over the long run. I think the days of machines that dim the lights and sound like an airplane taking off are numbered.
          • Ironically...

            Intel had the technology and it let it go.

            When they bought out Alpha from DEC they got StrongARM (which became XScale) as a side, which would have been the key for faster processors.

            Today Marvell is thriving with Cortex based XScales. According to the wikipedia: "ships more than one billion chips per year".

            IMHO, Intel can easily bounce back just by teaming with Marvell or focusing on notebooks and use Ubuntu to jump into smartphones.

            Microsoft on the other hand has far deeper decisions to make.

            Windows RT is a train wreck. Windows 8 is a partial failure (90% RT part, 10% desktop part). Windows Phone 8 is just a wanna-be competitor to iPhone and Android and XBox One appears to be not wanted by XBox 360 fans and too much for the Ouya crowd.

            If they want to succeed, they must re-re-imagine all their products.

            Maybe scrap Win RT and Surface RT. Maybe include Android in Windows 8.2 using Virtual PC (Asus knows how and can help Microsoft). Maybe port the Windows Phone 7 engine to Android or port Windows Phone 8 to Linux to increase the hardware compatibility.

            Or maybe none of the above and just find a new Microsoft for their Surface. But not one inside as we know that won't work. Just like IBM did with it's PC, they found a company willing to bet it's future on the new platform. Or several. Like Lotus, like Ashton Tate, like themselves 30 years ago.

            If they wait for their own products it would be like if IBM had waited for DB2 to come to DOS, which never happened at all.
          • Ohh...wake up and smell the Java...

            Both Intel and Microsoft are high margin companies that can't survive in low margins. That's the reason they killed the Netbook.

            If both could thrive in lower margins, today we would have quad processor Netbooks running Windows 7.5, with Windows Phone 7 on the side.

            Windows 8 would have been a pet project for both Courier and Surface and the iPad would only be a dream in Jon Ivy's sketchpads.

            MS failed to realize the potential of the Netbook and killed it, before it could help prepare them for the tablet onslaught.

            Intel, followed lead and pushed the horrendous Celeron ULVs with 17W TDP to deter manufacturers from using Atom, relegating it to non existent: "mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and other Internet-centric computers" just a year after the release of the iPhone.

            Of course, Apple had something different in mind and since they already had the OpenStep foundation, they just changed it to Touch backporting Darwin and changing the API for full touch, thus the iPad became a workstation in the palm of your hand with RISC performance and power efficiency.
          • Android-tablet is already on the top of the hill...


            markeshare of tablets Q1 2013: 56,5% for Android. (source: IDC, Gartner, Digitimes)

            I just wonder why SJVN hasn't found that info before?
        • If just "making these" would move the needle...

          Windows RT should have pegged the needle.

          Unfortunately for MS, nobody wanted them.
      • He mentioned Windows 8

        Or rather, 8.1, which is what we would expect MS to sell going forward.
        John L. Ries
        • Disingenuous

          First the title (bold with large text), then the summary (italicized with small text) and on to the article with alternative Linux-based mobile OSs highlighted (bold with small text).

          To be strictly consistent with the article title and summary, Steven could have chosen to give Windows 8.1 the same emphasis that he gave the alternative Linux-based mobile OSs. But, he didn't. Formatting matters in articles (as it does in comics).
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Point is well taken

            The comic book analogy is a good one.
            John L. Ries
        • Window 8.1

          Oh, yeah. After 18 years of tablet failure Window 8.1 is finally going to be the winner when it is released. Also, there will be jam tomorrow.

          /would call it Windows 8.1, but it doesn't have multiple windows so Window 8.1 it is.
          • Ignorance is bliss

            You can have multiple windows open in both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1
          • If you have high enough resolution. For WinRT..

            Otherwise you wont get "split" mode.

            (That matter now, since MS lowered resol. requirements below that number)