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Summary:

Over at OStatic yesterday, Sam Dean pointed to a study from Juniper Research that claims shipments of smartphones with open-source operating systems will double by 2014. According to Jupiter, operating systems and available applications are among the top concerns when customers shop for smartphones, and that […]

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Over at OStatic yesterday, Sam Dean pointed to a study from Juniper Research that claims shipments of smartphones with open-source operating systems will double by 2014. According to Jupiter, operating systems and available applications are among the top concerns when customers shop for smartphones, and that may give the open-source community all the leverage it needs to get a foothold on the mobile device market.

Until recently, Palm, Microsoft, Apple, and Research In Motion were the four main players in the smartphone market, each with their own proprietary OS. Each platform has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each appeals to different segments of the smartphone market.

When the first phone shipped with the open-source Android operating system, it was hard to ignore the impact a customizable OS could have on the market, since many smartphone owners like to tweak their devices for their own unique needs. Developers were intrigued, since designing third-party apps for an open-source platform is far less confining than Apple or RIM’s program requirements.

Although T-Mobile is set to launch its second Android phone this month, Android phones aren’t exactly flying off the shelves. But holding 6.3 percent of a crowded market is pretty good for a device that’s so new to the market. Application development isn’t quite as prolific as hoped, but it’s continuing to gain ground on Apple. The clunky design of T-Mobile’s G1 has been significantly streamlined in the second-generation myTouch, however, so that may help sagging sales, as will as many as 18 additional open-source smartphones expected to hit the market this year.

Juniper researchers say, “However, the real key is not whether the OS is open source but whether it’s easy for a developer to design an application and make money from that effort. The combined changes of Apple’s open route to the market and LiMo, OHA, and Symbian’s open-source OS approach have generated a tidal wave-like effect which even the economic downturn has been unable to reverse.”

That means app developers and end users may drive a sharp upturn in the sales of open-source smartphones. Developers may gravitate toward an easier application development environment, and consumers give a lot of weight to which devices have the best apps when making buying decisions.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced the Android smartphone market will grow that explosively in the next five years. While Android may have the advantage of an open-source community behind app development, the operating system itself is still relatively young, as is its application environment. Furthermore, consumers are having a tough time accepting Linux as a viable desktop option, so I don’t see it as a deciding factor in whether consumers from outside the open-source community buy an Android phone over an iPhone.

  1. There are plenty of people on the planet using “whatever works” on their phone, and they are happy with it. There are still going to be billions of folks using the 2014 analogue of inexpensive candybar/flip phones on cheap/prepaid plans, and a few iterations of Android/WebOS are going to run those devices. MobileMe isn’t much of a selling point as a $99/yr addon, either — the other OSes do enough of what it provides for free.

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  2. This entirely depends on your definition of ‘open-source’. Just because you can view some part of the OS source doesn’t necessarily mean you can load it onto the phone you buy.

    Most Smartphones today are built on at least part open-source, including Apple’s (as I believe iPhoneOS is built on top of Darwin, just like MacOS X). Symbian is or soon will be available under some open-source license. And Android is only ‘mostly’ open-source, as parts of it aren’t readily available.

    So, this is really a pointless article.
    End-users don’t care and it makes no direct difference to them if the OS is open-source.
    Developers don’t care, because all they can do is look at the source, not actually install it on their phones. If anything, it could make it worse for them, because instead of getting good documentation for their development tools, they get a ‘just look at the code’ response. Developers only care about the SDK available for an OS, and how to deal with capabilities of different phones.

    Open-source only makes a difference to manufacturers, as they need to pick one that they can get up and running on their phone, and developers will create applications for.

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