BARCELONA, Spain--Look out, Android: three challengers are gunning for your app cash. Firefox OS, Tizen, and Ubuntu Touch have all made their debuts at mobile industry shindig Mobile World Congress this week. And in my opinion, Samsung and the mobile industry are backing the wrong horses.
Mobile phone carriers and manufacturers have grown fat on phones running Google's Android software, but they're keenly aware that in so doing they're also lining Google's pockets with money spent downloading apps, games, movies, music, and the like. The next stage in world domination for Samsung and the rest is wresting control -- and income -- from Google by making phones with their own software onboard.
Samsung is backing Tizen, a long-gestating operating system that's been kicked around by almost every major player in the mobile world at some point. Meanwhile, ZTE, Alcatel, LG, and other manufacturers are committed to Firefox OS. Both are aimed at cheap, low-power phones.
Meanwhile, British company Canonical has brought its open-source Ubuntu software, beloved by geeks around the world, to phones and tablets in the shape of Ubuntu Touch. Officially, there aren't any carriers or manufacturers behind it yet.
Which is a crime, because it's brilliant.
And don't just take my word for it: CNET editors voted Ubuntu Touch the best product of Mobile World Congress 2013. By a landslide.
Firefox and Tizen have a lot of men in suits standing in press conferences banging on about how each OS is the best thing since Otto Rohwedder decided to do something about his irregular toast. But both operating systems are awful -- sure, it's early days, but they're both Android copycats, poorly executed. The most surreal moment of my MWC experience was watching the Tizen announcement: a suit stood on a stage and told us that Tizen was responsive and clever, while I stood 10 feet away holding it in my hand, thinking, "Are we even talking about the same thing?!"
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I dislike Tizen. The demo we saw was so bad I'm taking it as a personal affront: Samsung et al had an opportunity to show the world and his wife how great Tizen is, yet we were shown laggy, malformed software with no unified design aesthetic. This thing has been in the works for years! Why doesn't it work?
Firefox OS is just as bad. I do think you need to ask yourself how much you like Firefox OS and how much you like Firefox. Mozilla has a huge amount of goodwill based on years of making the best browser -- that is, the browser that isn't Internet Explorer -- and generally being all open-source and friendly.
Like a puppy.
But in this case, Firefox OS is not the plucky underdog, and it's not the best user experience -- it's basically got nothing going for it except some besuited cheerleaders. Same goes for Tizen.
Ubuntu, by contrast, is polished, slick, and well thought out. It doesn't reinvent the wheel -- it has home screens and a pull-down notification bar and so on -- but it has its own signature look and feel. And it, y'know, actually works.
Unlike Firefox and Tizen.
All three operating systems are slated to turn up on phones this year. Firefox OS and Tizen aren't anywhere near ready for prime time -- whereas Ubuntu is on Nexus devices today.
Fingers crossed that carriers and manufacturers come to their senses and get behind Ubuntu. Because, frankly, you deserve better than Firefox OS and Tizen.