Android-iOS duopoly won't last forever, but the challenger might surprise you

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Android and iOS dominate the smartphone market, but not for long, executives said during a Mobile Breakfast meeting Tuesday.

Their ideas of who might become a truly competitive number three might surprise you.

A former Motorola executive and a venture investor suggested that Android forks from the likes of Samsung and Amazon could make a dent in the Android/iOS duopoly.

The worldwide market for mobile phones is close to 7 billion, but only about a third of those are smartphones. That leaves a huge opportunity for smartphones to bite into the overall phone market, said Omar Javaid, who's the managing director of BBO Global and was the head of the emerging technologies group at Motorola until a couple months ago. He and others who spoke on the pane  think that the next couple of years will see a strong third competitor.

One could be Samsung – if it decides to build its own version of Android. Samsung currently has the biggest share of Android phones and has at times sold more of its Galaxy phones than Apple has sold iPhones. "There's a great deal of speculation about what would happen in the Android world if Samsung were to do what Amazon did, which is to create its own fork of Android," Javaid said.

Companies that break with Google's Android distribution lose some benefits, like access to the Google Play store. But they also have the opportunity to sell their own services that are similar to those Google now offers, and the chance to better differentiate their offering.

Amazon, which has already proved successful at using an Android fork in its Kindle Fire, is in a great position to also build a smartphone on a unique version of Android, said Zaw Thet, an advisor at Signia Venture Partners. He thinks Amazon is in a similar position as Apple when it first launched the iPhone. Apple already had a payment structure, digital store, and relationship with users in place with the iPod. That made it easy to transition that existing relationship onto the phone.

"Who has that buying power and mindshare? Amazon, certainly," Thet said.

Rumors have been circulating recently that Amazon is close to launching a phone.

Another possibility for the number three slot includes Microsoft, said Javaid. It has the resources to keep at it with Windows Phone but "it will be hard and painful," he said.

Google and Apple won't be standing stillwhile others chase their leading positions. "When Google launches its first Motorola device, it will be interesting to see how that changes the underlying ecosystem," said Tracy Isacke, director of Telefonica Digital.

Don't look to HP for a competitive smartphone. While HP thinks that it must play in the tablet market, it doesn't think it needs to be in the phone business, said HP's mobility VP Todd Achilles. "HP's strengths are on data-centric devices rather than voice," he said.

He acknowledged that the company is behind on tablets. "When we shut down the Palm organization we set back our tablet portfolio by about two years and we've just started to get going on that," he said.

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