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Could Europe develop its own mobile operating system?

Recently, We asked if it were possible for Europe to have a dominant smartphone again. The answer was simple: no, not unless there is some sort of miracle.

The reason behind this is multi-faceted, but the main point is that because Asia is home to the majority of the world’s mobile manufacturing facilities, it’s almost impossible for European companies to make a good enough phone at a low enough price to pass.

But here at TNW, we had another question: Could Europe launch its own mobile operating system?

Why do we need a European mobile operating system?

On initial inspection, it’s an excellent idea. A European operating system could regain some of the power of Silicon Valley giants iOS and Android. Also, the use of factories or raw materials would not be necessary, as the software could be developed in the continent itself.

Then let’s not forget that Europe has been at the forefront of digital privacy regulation, with initiatives such as the AVG And strict data erasure laws enforcing citizens’ rights against data-hungry US technology giants.

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A European mobile operating system could then be used to ensure the highest level of privacy for people and extend an element of control over the tech ecosystem. That last point is especially important, because not only do Apple and Google control the apps that appear on their platforms, they do too make huge cutbacks from publishers. That is a staggering amount of power and income – all of which the EU could use.

But… is a European operating system possible?

To find out, I contacted several experts. One of them was Jan Stryjak, an associate director at Counterpoint research. He leads the analyst firm’s research in Europe and has over 13 years of experience in the telecommunications, media and technology industries.

The first thing he told me was that there was no room in the market for a new European – or any other – mobile operating system. “Two is enough,” he says, referring to iOS and Android. Attempts have been made in the past to make Windows a third dominant mobile operating system, but failed. While Windows Mobile And Symbian had their days in the sun, Android and iOS both fizzled out.

“It doesn’t work,” Stryjak tells me of the possibility of another operating system joining Apple’s and Google’s mobile operating systems. Well, there goes that dream.

When I pressed Stryjak further on the chances of something like this, the only potential he saw was something for “the really niche tech population that cares about privacy”.

Let’s talk about the third option

I discussed this topic of privacy with Wayne Huang, VP of Product Operations at Fairphone. His company makes devices that want to be sustainable and climate neutral, with the aim of making repairable devices that return power to the consumer.

One of Fairphone’s most important customer segments is precisely the tech niche that cares about privacy. When I asked him how this option manifested itself on their devices, Huang pointed it out to me Fairphone’s collaboration with the /e/ Foundationspecifically the Linux-based mobile operating system /e/OS.

The inside of a Fairphone, showing how easy the parts are to repair.