Does the Market Want Another Open OS to Compete with Android?

I would argue that Android owes its success directly to the iPhone. Putting aside the claims that Android “stole” the iPhone’s look and feel, carriers and hardware OEMs had no response to the iPhone in 2007 other than Android. Hence the carrier and OEM embrace of the Google OS. It was something of a marriage of convenience.

Despite the incredible success of Android, handset makers’ relationships with the platform might be described as “ambivalent.” They want to avoid becoming merely “commodity producers” of Android devices and reduced to the fate of their desktop brethren, which essentially became vendors of nearly indistinguishable “gray boxes” running PC Windows. Accordingly HTC, Samsung and Motorola have tried to develop, unsuccessfully I would argue, proprietary software on top of Android to differentiate from one another. 

While the new Windows Phone OS represents an alternative to Android, none of the hardware makers other than Nokia has enthusiastically embraced it. If it sells well for Nokia we might see that change. But there are those who also argue that Microsoft risks alienating other hardware OEMs with its Nokia favoritism. 

All this makes me wonder if the market wants yet another open-source OS as an alternative to Android. Reportedly Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, is working on a mobile operating system “based on the Web, as opposed to what the project’s wiki calls ‘proprietary, single-vendor stacks.’” But this doesn’t appear to be viable in the near term as an Android alternative.

What about WebOS? HP was going to kill it. But since the abrupt replacement of CEO Leo Apotheker with Meg Whitman many of his decisions are being reversed. The fate of WebOS is unclear right now and may be decided this year or early next. But what about making WebOS an open-source Android competitor? 

I’m not a developer or engineer but WebOS was and is positively regarded by the developer community; it has just been mismanaged and poorly marketed. But my view is that if HP were to turn it into an open-source mobile operating system there would be takers and it could gain new life. My suspicion is that makers would be interested in a high-quality alternative to Android to further diversify their handset lineups and give themselves some additional leverage vis-a-vis Google. 

WebOS’s app ecosystem is paltry by comparison to iOS and Androids but that could be rectified over time. 

I think an open-source WebOS is intriguing; however HP doesn’t have a direct way to benefit from it as Google benefits from Android with advertising. Whatever it decides about the fate of WebOS I hope HP doesn’t kill it outright.