Looking back on 2012, the ecosystem of mobile operating systems mostly developed towards a state of aristocracy; while iOS and Android were able to secure and even expand their near-ubiquitous position, other mobile operating systems either remained an outlier (Windows Phone) or even disappeared (Nokia's Symbian). This comes to no great surprise - the abundance of apps on iOS and Android and the popularity of devices running them made their status a safe bet.
However, things may change in 2013; several recent - and upcoming - developments could stir up the mobile OS game:
1. Nokia selling more Lumia phones than expected:
The former cellphone giant brought to the ground by missing the boat on the smartphone surge is actually seeming confident for the first time in a longer while. While the majority of their business is still their "Asha" product line - basic phones and 'pre-smartphones' catered to emerging markets -, it is quite probable that Nokia finally procured a smartphone that stands a chance on the crowded market: Nokia is estimated to have sold over 4.4 million Lumia smartphones, exceeding general expectations for their 2012 Q4 balance.
But are the phones actually any good? Running Windows Phone 8 may be a slight handicap in terms of compatibility, but its main selling point is the camera and its low light performance, which has been highly acclaimed by several press sources. Apart from that, the phone is reasonably priced and not flawed, giving Nokia - and Windows Phone 8 for that matter - a chance at gaining market share in 2013.
2. BlackBerry 10 to be carried on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile:
Despite also Research In Motion losing ground due to their BlackBerry brand not being able to keep up with the game that Apple and Samsung are currently dominating, the Canadian company still retains a strong and specific brand image - the BlackBerry as the business phone. Packed with possibilities, but very unintuitive and cryptic to consumers, the BlackBerry brand eventually also lost to the iPhone and the Galaxy S in their 'home turf', the business segment, due to lack of innovation, usability and compatibility.
But apparently, the faith in the brand has not vanished: the major U.S. networks AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have confirmed to carry devices operating the soon-emerging 'BlackBerry 10'-OS, and RIM has reported to have received 15,000 BB10-compatible app submissions within 2 days...BlackBerry might be reclaiming at least some lost territory.
Mozilla announced Firefox OS in July 2012 as an Android alternative, forecasting that first devices would arrive in 2013. While talk may be cheap, China's ZTE has allegedly teamed up with an unnamed European carrier to build a smartphone based on Firefox OS to be launched this year, hinting that it might also bring a device to the U.S. market in 2013.
It is rather difficult to determine what chances Firefox OS stand against the competition - at the moment, they look rather bleak: despite Firefox OS being fully open, it would have to generate a huge app resource and a discernable feature to even stand a chance.
Apple does not have a popularity problem - yet: according to research, Apple's brand is increasingly unpopular with teens. While the reasoning for this assumption is not very sound, it seems plausible that due to the high pricing, most of the Apple devices in teens' hands are hand-me-downs from parents or older siblings - often being halfway to obsolescence and technically inferior to the Android devices of their peers. Considering Apple's high pricing, they are able to sell their devices to people who know - or remember - "what they're paying premium for", but the next generation of teens does not remember Apple from its emerging days and rise to glory with beautiful products like the iPod and iPhone - to them, Apple may be ubiquitous in a negative way. Apple may almost even be as 'uncool' now as Microsoft used to be 10 years ago.
So Apple might be under pressure to revise their product strategy to stand their ground - reports of the Cupertino company working on a low price iPhone and cutting parts orders for iPhone 5 manufacturing point in that direction.
5. Ubuntu Mobile and Tizen in the works:
Ubuntu, originally a GUI-focused Linux adaption for desk- and laptop computers, is scheduled to release their mobile offering in late 2013. It is supposed to use the same drivers as Android and share resemblances to the discontinued WebOS.
Tizen is a Linux-based operating system that emerged from the death of Nokia's MeeGo. Intel, which originally worked with Nokia on MeeGo, and Samsung took over the development of the operating system, which is also overseen by the Linux Foundation. It is seen as more open than Android.
It may be a bit too early to tell - but 2013 might bring forth interesting developments in the mobile operating systems sphere.
Which of the contenders to you deem the most relevant? What other game-changers do you know of?