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The iOS and Android Duopoly

Will There Ever Be a Third Mobile Platform?

With close to 1.5 billion smartphones sold each year, it would seem that there would be ample room for new mobile operating systems. But despite the massive volumes, the market has settled on two platforms, Android and iOS.

In late December 2016, Cyanogen, the company that created the Cyanogen operating system (OS) based on the Android Open Source Platform, made an extremely terse announcement that it was shutting down. There will be no additional upgrades or maintenance of the Cyanogen OS — a commercial version of the company's open-source project. Cyanogen once claimed that it would displace Google's control of Android. It was a bombastic claim and reflected confidence that at least the company could find a niche in the huge mobile market. But even that didn't happen.

Cyanogen had some success building relationships with a few smartphone makers, namely OnePlus, India-based Micromax and the UK's Wileyfox. Despite this, there was some trouble between Cyanogen and its clients (see Break-Up Call), but that wasn't the root problem — alternative platforms such as Cyanogen don't have any real problems to solve.

As we've previously stated, the odds of fringe mobile platforms breaking into the major leagues aren't good. And even though the Cyanogen OS is a version of Android, key smartphone brands see such a platform as too risky to implement on a flagship product.

Android is now a safe third-party choice for mobile platforms and this has led to the current iOS and Android duopoly, which reflects similar conditions in the PC environment where Mac and Windows compete for market share. Many mobile platforms have come and gone during the past decade, some created by start-ups and others by some of the world's largest technology companies. Mobile platform projects such as Firefox OS, LiMo, Jolla, Maemo, MeeGo, Tizen, Sailfish, Ubuntu, WebOS and Windows 10 Mobile have had little impact on the market. Cyanogen's collapse reminds us that it won't be a direct attack that will disrupt the market for mobile platforms. Instead, it is the undertow of major new trends such as artificial assistants that will alter consumer behaviour and expectations.

A decade from now, we might not be talking about Android or iOS, but rather Google Assistant or Siri, or perhaps Alexa, Bixby or Cortana. The current two-horse race is likely to be disrupted by a different type of race, rather than a different type of horse.

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