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Alternative mobile OSes are trying to compete with the mainstream Google Android OS, but organizations must weigh the pros and cons before considering them.
The obstacle these Android OS alternatives face is the question of whether they offer enough differentiation and improvement for enterprise organizations to consider switching away from Android or the prevalent but far less adopted iOS, which targets a more premium customer market than Android. Organizations would have to see significant opportunity to improve their mobile UX, productivity or management practices to switch away from the OS that accounts for the vast majority of mobile users.
The takeover of Android OS alternatives wouldn't be unprecedented. However, Android has dominated the market share for the past seven to eight years, so it would be an uphill battle.
The following roundup of alternative mobile operating systems includes some that are compatible with standard Android and those that are derivatives of Android as well.
Non-Android compatible full OSes
Harmony is not exactly a replacement for Android; it's Huawei's attempt to reinvent the real-time OS for a wide range of devices from IoT appliances to smartphones. This OS is currently a work in progress.
The current political climate prevents a full Android build, but Huawei is currently shipping its Mate Smartphone models with an open source version of Android and its custom interface, EMUI, on top, instead of Harmony. As a result, these devices can't use the Google Play Store to download mobile apps.
The PostmarketOS is a free and open source OS based on Alpine Linux. Its targeted use is to run on older mobile devices to extend the devices' lives by phasing out older, unsupported OSes.
KaiOS is based on the now discontinued Firefox OS. The sweet spot for KaiOS is feature phones, which leave the latest mobile functionality behind in favor of the simpler mobile device models of the early and mid-2000s. With KaiOS on these devices, these simplified mobile devices can access more advanced features such as app stores and 4G capabilities.
Sailfish OS is from Jolla, based out of Finland; the development team for Sailfish came from Nokia after it discontinued the MeeGo OS. There is a Jolla Smartphone and Jolla tablet available that run this OS, and Sailfish has garnered some recognition and adoption from BRICS countries such as China, India and Brazil.
Android-compatible derivatives and UI modifications
OxygenOS is based on the Android Open Source Project. It was developed by Chinese phone manufacturer OnePlus to replace the discontinued Cyanogen OS that shipped on several of its devices. It is not a full OS; it's more of a UI layer, consisting mainly of Google apps and minor UI customizations.
Samsung One UI
This is a proprietary UI overlay by Samsung available on many of its devices. As a proprietary UI, it has some unique Samsung applications, but it maintains all the base capabilities of the latest Android OS and is fully compatible with Android apps.
Sony Experia UI
Similar to other mobile device OEMs' custom UI, Sony Xperia UI adds some custom Sony apps on top of standard Android, making it compatible with the standard Android apps.
This OS modification was developed by ASUS for its smartphones. It's a UI overlay to stock Android with some custom apps that cater to ASUS hardware.
MiFavor was developed by telecommunications manufacturer ZTE as a custom Android UI for their smartphone running the stock Android platform, but this modification includes some custom ASUS apps.
Amazon Fire OS
Amazon Fire OS is based on Android but has its own unique capabilities. It isn't compatible with standard Android apps available in the Google Play app store. It's very Amazon-centric; it focuses on a connection to the Amazon store and consuming a variety of Amazon content.
Many Android OS alternatives have fallen by the wayside, including Ubuntu Touch, Firefox and Cyanogen. It's difficult to emerge from this market as a serious competitor in a world dominated by Android and, to a lesser extent, iOS.
Should enterprise organizations consider any Android OS alternatives?
Organizations that consider deploying Android OS alternatives or just Android UI modifications should factor in the following considerations.
IT must determine if the OS supports standard apps from the Google Play store or from the preferred software vendors. Most of the Android derivatives with custom UI overlays will, while the non-Android compatible OSes won't have this support.
Management and security
IT pros should test and research whether Android OS alternatives will allow them to manage and secure devices with their current unified endpoint management (UEM) platforms and management strategies. Plenty of UEM functionality is still available with the derivative custom overlays, although some derivatives add additional features. For the most part, the overlay developer makes management plugins available for these features.
The proprietary OSes, due to their limited market presence, are most likely not supported and hence will not be easy to manage in a corporate setting. This could be particularly troublesome in a BYOD scenario where a few users pick non-Android compatible devices.
Most of the non-Android OSes have very limited distribution and few devices that these OSes support. This presents a challenge for IT because it typically needs manufacturer and developer support to bring about more choice for users.
User interface unfamiliarity
While the Android-derived OSes may have some unique characteristics for the UI, they still represent basic Android systems. As such, the learning curve for users, particularly those already familiar with Android, wouldn't be too steep. That may not be the case for fully separate Android OS alternatives as each OS will likely have a unique interface.
While choice is good and competition is helpful, it's hard to see a scenario where the average enterprise organization would benefit from considering an Android OS alternative. Custom UIs present much less of an issue for users to adjust to and these devices still maintain a standard Android build, making them compatible with corporate systems and processes.