In those poorer countries, iOS starts with the richer people but, as in the rich world, is a solid No. 2 in many poorer regions, thanks to the availability of older, cheaper models such as the iPhone 3G S and iPhone 4. We're also now seeing experiments with installment sales to reduce the sticker shock. (BlackBerry had been No. 2 in some key countries but is losing that position.)
Also, the focus on device price tends to ignore two realities: One is that the biggest cost for users over time is the data plan, not the device, and Web-based devices tend to use more bandwidth. The other is that for many buyers in poorer countries, a smartphone acts as their computer, so it needs to be capable of more than you might expect.
I suspect that one of the less expensive platforms could get a toehold in poorer countries as a runner-up to Android and iOS, but it's a complete mystery as to which. Samsung has great brand awareness, which would argue for Tizen -- except Samsung is practically synonymous with Android, and Samsung's brand may steer people to that platform. Still, the decision to have Tizen run Bada apps will help.
Nokia's Asha is already known; plus, the Nokia brand has been very popular for regular cellphones in poorer regions for years -- yet Asha sales haven't been monstrous as you'd expect with those advantages. To me these two have the best chances as they are more known and trusted than the others.
The simple angle. A little over a week ago, desktop Linux vendor Canonical released a developer preview of its Ubuntu Touch mobile OS. I installed it on a Nexus 4 and found it a nice mashup of existing mobile OSes, though it's extremely simplistic in its first version. Mozilla's Firefox OS, whose first devices are coming to some countries this fall, takes a similar approach: Think widgets and mini-websites more than apps.
That simplicity might appeal to people who find iOS or Android too complex, but probably not. That's the same pitch we've heard for Windows Phone, which hasn't done well, despite three versions in as many years. Nokia's Asha devices seem to have flourished, selling 9 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012 -- until you realize a year-plus of availability has yielded just 2 percent of the market. Bada didn't hit even that level, and the struggling Windows Phone has only recently passed that mark, despite Microsoft's huge marketing muscle and Nokia's purported brand advantage (in its Lumia series).
Yes, some users will prefer a simpler smartphone, though it's not like iOS or Android are overly complicated. Both iOS and Android offer media playback options and game selections that strongly appeal to many users, including those who like it simple.
Simple also has a dark side: simplistic or unfinished products. Windows Phone, for example, is pretty but unable to do much. I can forgive the developer preview of Ubuntu Touch for being simplistic, given the early stage of its development, but not if the final version is so limited. I also can't forgive Mozilla's Firefox OS for being "slow and buggy," according to respected analyst firm Ovum, in the demonstration models shown last week for products that are supposed to hit the market in a few months.
Then there's Sailfish, an offshoot of the open source MeeGo effort led by Nokia before the switch to Windows Phone. Jolla (pronounced "yo-lah"), a tiny company composed of MeeGo engineers, decided essentially to keep working on it, calling its upcoming version Sailfish. It's an unlikely effort that speaks more to a team's passion than to any business reality.