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New Mobile OSs May Mean the End of the Closed App Store

Operating systems that support open Web standards could undermine tightly-controlled marketplaces for mobile apps.
January 8, 2013

In the coming months, three new mobile operating systems will launch: Firefox OS from Mozilla, Tizen (which came out of Nokia’s MeeGo platform but is now the brainchild of Intel and Samsung), and Ubuntu Phone, based on the wildly popular Ubuntu desktop Linux distribution.

Samsung devices running the Tizen mobile OS.

These operating systems are all open source, which means vendors can tinker with them as they see fit and create entirely unique offerings for their consumers. But what’s most important about them is that all will provide for HTML5 applications. Developers will have the ability to quickly port their apps between the platforms, creating a much easier path to revenue-generation.

Right now, developers are forced to develop applications in languages that the two major operating systems – iOS and Android – support, and then deliver them to mobile marketplaces to await approval. If all goes well, they’ll gain approval and (hopefully) start generating some cash off their creations.

HTML5 blurs the lines between so-called “native” applications and the Internet. By developing programs in HTML5, developers can regain some of the control they’ve lost through major marketplaces, like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

Tizen, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu will attempt to eradicate that paper tiger of controls. The Web will become the basis by which all smartphone owners get their applications. And there won’t be a single entity that will ultimately decide the fate of a respective application.

Perhaps there’s something to be celebrated in that. For years now, we’ve heard stories of applications being banned from Apple’s App Store because of the iPhone maker’s sometimes-odd decisions. If Firefox OS, Tizen, and Ubuntu can combine to steal some market share from iOS and Android things could change. Apple and Google, controllers of their domains, might need to accept that open Web standards truly are the future. And in the process, their control over mobile might ease.

It certainly won’t be easy. Apple announced yesterday that it has registered 40 billion downloads in its App Store since its launch in 2008. Last year, alone, app downloads hit 20 billion. Android’s Google Play marketplace will soon reach similar heights.

But it’s just possible that—with help from consumers and hardware companies looking for something different—the Web could win the battle over application control.

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