The U.S. mobile ecosystem duopoly has been the big story of tech for the past six-plus years. And continues to be mobile’s unshakeable reality — with Android and iOS collectively cutting themselves a 96 per cent share of the device market (per Gartner figures for Q3 2014).
Not everyone is happy about this lack of geopolitical diversity in the mobile space, though. Russia for one wants to see less U.S.-centricity, at least domestically — and is apparently willing to dip into its pockets to encourage developers to migrate apps to other mobile platforms.
Specifically Russia wants to support the Samsung-led Tizen open source effort, and also Jolla’s Sailfish OS — which has been developed in Europe (Finland), and is an extension of the open source MeeGo project (although notably Sailfish is not (yet) itself open sourced).
Tweeting from a conference at the weekend, Nikolai Nikiforov, the Russian Federation’s Minister of Communications and Mass Communications, called for the “de-monopolization of the global IT ecosystem” — and expressed support for the Linux-based Tizen OS, tweeting a hands-on photo of himself using the “new open source operating system”:
In the same series of tweets, Nikiforov revealed the Russian Federation intends to provide grants to homegrown developers to migrate their apps from the dominant U.S. mobile platforms to Tizen and Sailfish. An online translation of his below tweet reads: “We give grants to developers who will migrate their applications from Android and iOS monopoly in independent Tizen and Sailfish”:
He also retweeted a news story announcing the launch of another open source effort, Canonical’s first Ubuntu smartphone — which is due to go on sale in Europe in the next few days — suggesting that platform may also end up finding friends in the Russian Federation.
Samsung finally launched its first Tizen smartphone last month, in India. (An early Ars Technica review dubs it a “bad Android clone”.) And Tizen devices remain limited in their geographic availability at this point. But in another tweet Nikiforov suggests Tizen devices will be launching widel in Russia soon:
The Korean company is Tizen’s sole champion at this point — well, along with the Russian Federation now — but in another tweet Nikiforov notes the open source foundation of the platform leaves room for others to get involved by contributing source code:
Nikiforov reiterates the same sentiment with Sailfish, which launched its first smartphone last year (and is in the process of crowdfunding a tablet). Yet argues that Android — which also of course has an open source foundation — is increasingly tightly controlled by the U.S. company, pointing to Google blocking Acer from launching rival mobile devices back in 2012 and noting how many Google services device makers are required to pre-load in order to gain access to Google’s Play Store. He goes on to dub the platform the “supposedly open Android OS”.
Russian publication Hi-Tech.Mail.ru notes that Nikiforov has expressed suspicion of closed source platforms before, noting he held meetings with Apple and SAP last year to ask to be able to inspect source code for backdoors and hidden features — invoking the 2013 disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of U.S. government digital surveillance dragnets.
It’s not clear how much money the Russian Federation intends to throw behind the mobile market’s non-U.S. underdogs via app developer grants at this point. We’ve reached out to Nikiforov with questions and will update this article with any response.
In another tweet he notes that the grants will be for Russian developers only — so the focus is on encouraging a viable local alternative mobile ecosystem while supporting Russia’s domestic IT industry — as you’d expect from the Minister involved. Where there’s politics, there is always economics.