The challenge for new mobile operating systems

Comscore’s latest numbers for the US smartphone market came out yesterday. The key thing that stuck out to me as I crunched the numbers and looked back over historical trends is the number of people who own smartphones not running iOS or Android. The chart below shows the share of smartphones in US which are running Android and iOS (black circles) and the number of users (in millions) running something other than Android or iOS:Comscore December 13 numbersTwo things are clear from this chart. First, the share of smartphones running either Android or iOS has skyrocketed over the last few years, and has now reached passed 93%. But secondly, the actual number of users with smartphones not running one of these two operating systems has dropped, not just the share. There were around 30 million users of other OSs at the peak in 2010, but there are now just over 10 million, a number which has stayed fairly stable in the last three months. As BlackBerry has dwindled, Windows Phone has barely offset the declines in recent months, so that the total number has stayed roughly the same.

The challenge for any new operating system is to answer the fundamental question Windows Phone has struggled to answer: why does anyone need a third option? Over 90% of smartphone users seem to be happy with the two main operating systems, and of the remainder, just over 3% is on BlackBerry, which is both dwindling and at this point largely limited to people with specific needs. Just 3% is on Windows Phone, which is a platform with massive backing from both Microsoft and AT&T, even several years after launch. Given their substantially smaller resources, how can Firefox OS, Sailfish, Ubuntu for Mobile and so on ever hope to succeed in the US?