Google’s Android OS is dominating the mobile industry and there are absolutely no doubts about it. In Q2 2015, Android had the market share of 82.8%, followed by Apple’s iOS with 13.9%, according to IDC’s report. Android has grown immensely in the last few years and deservedly so.
Most of us love Android for the flexibility, customization and great features but there are times when we think of Android alternatives. There are some great mobile operating systems other than Android and although some of them aren’t as feature-rich or mature as Android, they offer some cool interesting features.
Why do we need an Android alternative?
We surely love Android, as the market share suggests and Google is really working hard to keep the Android momentum going but as with most things in life, we like having options. Along with that, there are a number of reasons why we need an Android alternative. Google has been criticized across the globe for not making Android really secure and reports have suggested that Android is most prone to malware and viruses. Until recently, Google wasn’t even transparent about the permissions in an Android app but with the Android 6.0 MarshMallow, it has updated its permissions page to match iOS’ security.
There are also issues of Android fragmentation, as we mentioned. For people unaware, devices running different Android versions leads to bad app performance, development problems and security issues and this is Android fragmentation. For example, Android 5.0 and 5.1 combined have a share of 23.4% among all Android devices across the globe and it was released a year ago. Android 6.0 Marshmallow is yet to make a mark on the Android market share. Google has tried to address these issues with Nexus devices but the problem still prevails. We cannot blame Google entirely too, as manufacturers like differentiating their devices with skins and having control. Google has tried to take some control of Android but it’s surely not enough.
The truth is there will never be a perfect smartphone or a perfect operating system because everyone has their own different needs. Well, Android and iOS are indeed close to fulfilling most of our needs but we like having options and diversity, don’t we?
So, let’s take a look at the Android alternatives we can use:
1. Plasma Mobile
Last week itself, KDE announced its own open source mobile OS Plasma Mobile. Based on Kubuntu, Plasma Mobile is the mobile version of desktop Plasma user interface that aims to provide convergence to KDE users. The OS is in the experimental phase and can be tested on Lg Nexus 5 devices. It will be interesting to see if Plasma Mobile gets a hardware deal in near future.
This one in the list is not an open source mobile OS but an open source mobile phone.
Security and Privacy focused Linux distribution PureOS has plans to launch a secure and encrypted smartphone. It’s called Librem and it will be running a touch optimized version of PureOS, Debian, Ubuntu, SUSE, Fedora and even Arch Linux.
Moto of LIbrem is to be a “phone that focuses on security by design and privacy protection by default. Running Free/Libre and Open Source software and a GNU+Linux Operating System designed to create an open development utopia, rather than the walled gardens from all other phone providers”.
It will be interesting to see how Librem turns out.
postmarketOS, also pmOS in short, is a touch-optimized, pre-configured Alpine Linux with own packages, that can be installed on smartphones.
The idea is to provide 10-year life cycle to smartphones. You probably already know that after a few years, Android or iOS stop providing updates for older smartphones. At the same time, you can run Linux on older computers easily. postmarketOS wants to achieve the same on the mobile platform by tweaking Linux into a touch optimized platform.
Don’t get too excited. postmarketOS is in very early phases of development and it is most likely that you won’t be able to use it on your smartphone just yet.
4. Sailfish OS
When Nokia decided to ditch the MeeGo mobile OS project, few unsatisfied Nokia employee decided to keep MeeGo alive in the form of Sailfish OS. Their flagship product Jolla has met with moderate success and has dedicated fan following. MeeGo was supposed to continue by Linux Foundation in the form of Tizen but over the time Tizen evolved on its own and cannot be termed as MeeGo derivative anymore. The same is true for Sailfish OS, core OS of which is based on Mer project which itself is based on the work from MeeGo.
While Sailfish OS created some buzz among early adopters thanks to Jolla devices, the company seems to be struggling.
Note: Sailfish OS is not open source. However, you could consider it as an option when you are looking for a mobile OS other than Android, iOS and Windows.
The Linux based open source mobile OS, Tizen is the Linux Foundation-supported project. Also, many other tech giants like Samsung and Intel support Tizen. Initially, Tizen was to be released in late 2013, then in January’15, Samsung Z the first Tizen phone, was released in the South Asian market. Though, Samsung Z disappointed getting much recognition in a competitive market of India. Despite a Linux based mobile OS, Tizen had security issues. Tizen, as based on, HTML5, the powerful and flexible development environment is an innovative open source mobile OS with has feature-rich applications and fantastic user experience. The smartphones based on Tizen deliver multi-tasking, 3D window effects, multi-touch, location-based service frameworks, sensor and multi-screen resolutions support.
LineageOS, also called as custom ROM is an Android distribution. It was designed after the success of Android distribution, and CyanogenMod was discontinued. This open source mobile OS is a fork of CyanogenMod. Initially launched in 2016’s December, is now supported by over 178 smartphone models and is said to have installs about 1.7 million installs.
The Android OS is undoubtedly dominating the mobile market. In past few years, the users on Android has increased immensely. Android is loved by its users for the amazing features, flexibility, and customization that it has but there are other alternatives to Android as well. Might be or might not be as efficient and popular to Android but they too offer some interesting features. The write-up above covers some of the most amazing open source mobile operating systems.
MIUI (pronounced “Me-You-I”) is a heavily modified version of the Android OS, made and maintained by Xiaomi Tech, a Chinese electronics company. MIUI offers a higher level of customization than stock Android, allowing users to apply custom themes, lock screens, fonts and more.
MIUI has built-in network monitoring, spam and virus protection, a data backup app and other useful and unique features. The UI is somewhat similar to that of the iPhone, with its glossy icons and smooth screen transitions.
To get MIUI, you must install it yourself on a compatible Android device, after first rooting and unlocking your phone. The process to accomplish this varies greatly by device and may very well void your warranty, so do your homework.
8. Ubuntu for Android
In the desktop computing world, Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux has gained significant traction as a free alternative to OSX and Windows, and they are now poised to break into the phone market with Ubuntu for Android.
Ubuntu for Android utilizes Android’s kernel (a core component of the OS) and its drivers, but promises to unleash the true power of multicore devices by accessing the hardware more directly than Android does. Canonical, the commercial entity behind Ubuntu, wants to bridge the gap between your phone and your laptop by bringing a full range of desktop applications to the mobile market, with a focus on true multitasking. Ultimately, they want their users to plug their phones into docks, which provides a laptop-like experience, allowing seamless transitions between work, play and on-the-go use of your handheld device.
Phones running Ubuntu’s mobile OS should be released sometime this year, so keep on the lookout.
Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox web browser, are also throwing their hat in the ring and developing an operating system for the mobile market. Firefox OS is Linux-based, like Android, but seeks to differentiate itself by focusing more on utilizing open standards and community supported software as opposed to closed source, proprietary tools.
Firefox OS offers what they are calling a truly adaptive phone experience. This means that your device will anticipate your needs and instantly deliver the information that you want from a variety of sources, including useful local content.
Firefox OS is currently only available on a handful of devices, but you can expect to see that expand in the near future.