Which will take center stage this year: Open source or traditional platforming?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: February 21, 2013

Over the past couple of months I’ve touched base on just about all of the up-and-coming open source mobile platforms. I’m particularly interested in Ubuntu, but Firefox OS, Tizen, and Sailfish don’t look too shabby either. And we can’t forget about Open WebOS; although it has already been released, as long as it keeps sparking interest further development on the platform will be honed upon. There’s certainly potential to be seen in the heart of these platforms, but how well will they hold up against the current competition this year?

The basis between the two different kinds of platforms are very different. While traditional platforms like iOS and Android (although Android is technically ‘open source’ I really don’t consider it that open compared to others) focus on bringing the content to the people, open source platforms focus more on letting the developer in you discover and create what you want out of the experience. It’s lining up to be a big year for both, and while they’re both made for seemingly different purposes they are aimed at the same technology oriented audience.

The open sourced platforms might not have as much content to offer in terms of apps yet, but some of them have some redeeming features that make them worth noticing. Ubuntu is very gesture-based in terms of how to navigate the phone which is very handy for those of us who multitask and only have one hand available for “smartphoning”. Also, with most of these open source platforms you have the ability to switch between platforms as you please, further embracing the fact that you don’t feel “locked in” to a certain platform.

Regardless of the features however, you have to take into account that hardware still plays a very important part in a consumer’s interest. Take a look at the BlackBerry Z10 for instance. It has a cool concept and displays a fresh new interface that has some pretty neat features, but how are the sales holding up? Not as good as we’d hoped, unfortunately, and all fingers point to the hardware with last year’s specs. Even though the specs aren’t horrendous, money talks and it seems that most people are more interested in phones with more up-to-date specs. It’s clear that hardware plays a key component in this competition whether we think it should or not, and these open source platforms will need to keep that in mind when releasing any new devices if they expect to see a good turn-out.

But what about the new phones we will see released from traditional platforms? You have the HTC One coming out soon which is a flagship device for Sense 5, and the Samsung Galaxy IV which is yet another beast of a phone that will be released by Samsung. We’re drawn in by the fact that we know exactly what we’re getting in to with these devices. No matter how it’s skinned, whether it’s with Sense or TouchWiz, we know that underneath it all it’s still the same Android operating system. When Apple releases its new iPhone model people will flock to it for the same reason – we already know what it offers and how it works.  Even Windows Phone 8 has a following, and people are waiting to see if they can top the Nokia Lumia 920.

It all boils down to how far we’re willing to test the waters. Developers will most certainly be interested in open-source platforms, but will those of us who aren’t really that developer savvy be as interested? Will we have the time and dedication to put into them to make them competitive, or will we keep on keeping on with what we already know? Are open source platforms really the future of smartphones?

What do you think of open source, readers? Have you had experience with them before, or would this be a completely new experience for you? Are you open to the idea or are you happy with what you have now? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!