NEW BLOG: With the dominance of Android and iOS, the prospect of new mobile operating systems that could challenge their market share is always welcome for developers looking for alternative channels to distribute their apps.
Open source mobile platforms Tizen and Ubuntu have been in development for some time, with Tizen having some big-name backers, but despite their promise it is unclear when exactly they will see a proper release on smartphones.
Currently, there is no commercially-available hardware running the Ubuntu mobile OS (although deals have been struck with Spanish player bq and China’s Meizu), while the only devices running Tizen are Samsung’s digital camera and Gear smart watches.
But despite the lack of hardware, numerous developers appear to be working on apps for both platforms.
Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu mobile platform, recently told Mobile World Live that he is confident about growth of the app ecosystem around the OS, noting that prominent app players, such as Evernote, have committed to the platform.
Marcus Elliott, CEO of cross platform development tool maker Marmalade, meanwhile recently discussed the “hundreds and hundreds” of apps that have been developed for Tizen using Marmalade’s technology.
The Samsung devices provide a limited opportunity for developers of certain types of apps for Tizen, but the lack of smartphones running either OS means numerous apps are being built that will sit around waiting for a device to make use of them.
Clearly, having a large number of apps available when devices are launched is advantageous in driving uptake of Tizen and Ubuntu. Indeed, one of the reasons attributed to the relatively lacklustre uptake of Windows Phone was its initial lack of big-name apps.
But the fact these apps are being developed is fairly meaningless for developers until there are devices on which they can be used.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: developers are building apps for platforms that aren’t yet commercially available, while the success of the platforms will depend, partly at least, on the number of apps available.
What Ubuntu and Marmalade’s work with Tizen have in common is that the apps developed for the platforms can be re-used on other mobile operating systems.
Shuttleworth touted the cross-platform capabilities of Ubuntu as developers can build a single app that works on a phone, tablet or PC. Ubuntu also supports HTML5, alongside native development, meaning programs that work on Ubuntu will work elsewhere.
Likewise, apps developed on Marmalade can be transitioned to other platforms using its cross-OS technology, which Elliott pointed out means they aren’t “wasted work”.
But one wonders whether developers would have produced these apps if it wasn’t for the possibility to distribute on other platforms, which also begs the questions of whether developers really have high hopes for Tizen and Ubuntu.
Elliott argues that apps are being produced for Tizen because “developers love new technology”, while the availability of Ubuntu for desktop and cloud means developers find it natural to support the mobile version, according to Shuttleworth.
This may be the case, but in this day and age, when only a few developers see their apps become successful on any kind of level, there is little scope for spending time and resources on building apps that aren’t guaranteed to have a distribution platform.
Realistically, commercial devices supporting Ubuntu will emerge on a small-scale basis sometime this year in light of recent progress (although the wait for a Tizen smartphone is becoming a long one). But producing apps for platforms with near-zero traction is a gamble for developers. Clearly, they will have other pans in the fire, in terms of mobile platforms they develop for, but it’s debatable whether working on these yet-to-be-launched platforms will be worth it.
Of course, the gamble could pay off for developers that produce apps that come to define Tizen and Ubuntu by exploiting their features. But these apps will have limited scope for generating revenue unless the platforms take off in a significant way.
But for developers whose apps aren’t a success, developing for Tizen or Ubuntu may be a risk that’s not worth taking.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.