Mobile phones take a back seat as gadget show goes soft on hardware

Mozilla launches Firefox OS
Nokia's wireless charging device is a pillow for your phone so that "it will wake refreshed and recharged". It is co-branded with the Fatboy designer furniture brand and comes in a range of vibrant colors.

    JUST WATCHED

    Mozilla launches Firefox OS

MUST WATCH

Mozilla launches Firefox OS 03:35

Story highlights

  • CNET's Jason Jenkins says seemingly less sexy mobile operating systems drew his attention at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona
  • Firefox's OS generated some of the biggest buzz but Jenkins thinks it will struggle to gain a major following in developed countries
  • Unbuntu Touch, an open source operating system slated for release in October, drew praise from Jenkins

I came to Mobile World Congress expected to be wowed by lots of shiny new gadgets, but I'm leaving impressed by the seemingly less sexy subject of mobile operating systems. Turns out there's a lot happening here.

A lot of the buzz was focused around the Firefox OS launch on Sunday. A rival to Android, iOS and Windows Phone, it seems unlikely it will get much traction in the West. But in places where people have yet to buy a smartphone it might stand a chance -- it's intended to run on less powerful phones that are cheap to make and sell.

One of the aspects of the launch that surprised most people was the number of manufacturers and network operators backing the OS.

Tell us: What's your dream smartphone feature?

That's a sign of how fed up those parties are getting of being told what to do by Apple and Google, and how worried they are that they are being increasingly locked out of the profits of the smartphone sector. They are lashing themselves to Firefox OS in the hope that it will lead to more money for them down the line.

PayPal's mobile bet
PayPal's mobile bet

    JUST WATCHED

    PayPal's mobile bet

MUST WATCH

PayPal's mobile bet 03:13
FC Barcelona: More than social media
FC Barcelona: More than social media

    JUST WATCHED

    FC Barcelona: More than social media

MUST WATCH

FC Barcelona: More than social media 02:20
BlackBerry's comeback battle
BlackBerry's comeback battle

    JUST WATCHED

    BlackBerry's comeback battle

MUST WATCH

BlackBerry's comeback battle 02:57

Also shown off for the first time was Tizen, Samsung and Intel's alternative to Android.

Due later this year, Tizen has had a long history of false starts, so we were excited to take a look at it. It essentially looks a lot like Android, but seemed pretty janky to us and a long way from being ready for release to consumers. It wasn't the best of debuts for something so important.

Read more: Will we ever have battery-free mobiles?

But for me and the rest of the CNET team, the star of the show is something very few people will have heard of.

Ubuntu Touch is an operating system for mobiles and tablets coming in October. It doesn't have the big names attached to it like Firefox OS and Tizen, but it feels a lot slicker to us.

We have just named it the best of show and we're hoping that it is something we'll see in the real world very soon.