Mozilla’s recent announcement that it is working on its own Linux-based mobile OS, with the first devices expected to ship later this year, will drop yet another system on a smartphone market already heaving under the weight of iOS, Android, Blackberry OS, Windows, not to mention smaller players such as WebOS. It’s a brave move when the market seems to be moving towards users clustering around the big players, with even Microsoft struggling to make a significant impact.
By the looks of things, Mozilla’s curiously-named Boot to Gecko won’t be trying to beat Apple and Google at their own game, it’ll be a niche offering with the handsets likely to be pitched at the lower end of the market. Still, RIM’s travails are instructive here – in the consumer market at least, Blackberry has been playing catch-up with the iPhone and many Android-powered smartphones for some time. Some of the handsets haven’t helped, but generally speaking they’re better for emailing than most touch-screen phones and won’t run down during a particularly hectic day.
Unfortunately for RIM, “does this have a robust text inputting interface and lengthy battery life?” is increasingly less of a concern for many consumers than “can I play Angry Birds on this?” And there’s the rub – Blackberry App World in particular is lagging way behind iOS and Android when it comes to the content on offer, and it’s increasingly the availability of content that will drive smartphone take-up. If you can’t make your platform sufficiently attractive to enough app developers, you’re in trouble.
Boot to Gecko will be open-source, which should help, especially if Mozilla goes straight for the cheaper end of the market and can get it on devices in sufficient numbers. But being subject to the whims and priorities of developers carries its own risks. I spend literally hours every week on Spotify’s Android app, but feedback on the app’s performance on newer versions of Android, including Ice Cream Sandwich, hasn’t been great. You’d expect this to be a temporary issue, but if that continues to be the case a year or so down the line, it will almost certainly affect my next buying decision, with anything running the latest Android likely to be passed over. I certainly wouldn’t go for a device that couldn’t run it at all. Millions of consumers will have their own concerns with other favourite apps. In the smartphone wars, expect content creators to increasingly shape the battlefield – and that’s where media recruitment can make all the difference.