The tech industry loves to watch platforms and products duke it out, and the competition can produce truly useful innovation that betters us all. It can also lead to lots of wasted effort and shattered dreams once the actual war is over but people keep trying to pretend it's still on.
That's certainly the case in mobile, where for years it's been clear that only two operating system mattered: iOS and Android. Yet there were always a bunch of hopefuls that the tech industry cheered on, for sport if nothing else.
Those hopefuls are now all but gone, in a rapid succession of ignominious ends.
Yesterday, Mozilla announced the end of its Firefox OS, a weak, pointless mobile OS that debuted in 2013. The Web-based OS had the problems as all Web-based OSes (such as Chrome OS): They can't do much, and what they can do they can't do well. They beg the question "Why?" -- a question without an answer, which is the reason they fail in the market.
Earlier this fall, Jolla announced it couldn't deliver the Sailfish tablets it has taken orders for because it was nearly out of money to complete the development and production. Sailfish was a passion project from ex-Nokia engineers who hated to see the death of Nokia's own Symbian operating system a half decade ago. But the passion didn't translate to product.
Then there's BlackBerry OS, the original smartphone OS. The company once known as Research in Motion has all but killed the BlackBerry OS, adopting Android instead. The company says it will update the OS for current customers next year, but CEO John Chen has said for a year that if they don't sell, he'll kill the BlackBerry phones. Well, they don't sell, and the company isn't making new ones. Only a hopeless optimist would think that the BlackBerry OS is not dead.
Then there's Tizen, an open source mobile OS that has bounced around several big names, from Nokia to Intel to Samsung. The few Tizen smartphones have been major flops, so the focus has shifted to being an embedded OS for TVs, infotainment systems, and other gadgets. There, it's up against Java, QNX, and Android -- who wins is irrelevant because embedded OSes by definition are customized to their devices, not platforms in the sense that a buyer or application developer would care about.
The demise of all these competitors to iOS and Android means the tech press has less to write about. Except for BlackBerry, users never cared -- and neither have application developers. Their demise also makes crystal-clear the mobile reality: There are two platforms for users and developers to choose from.
Right now, there's only one possible alternative to keep an eye on: Windows Phone, which is improving but has no commitment in term of hardware makes or application developers. Only the Microsoft name keeps it in view. Even Gartner, which like IDC in 2012 infamously predicted that Windows Phone would surpass iOS to become No. 2 in the mobile market in 2015, now says Windows Phone's future is grim.
For all practical purposes, we're back to the reality that only iOS and Android matter. Accept it, and move on.