The lead up to CES always brings about interesting news in the mobile market, and this year is no different. While this year is light on hardware announcements, there’s a lot of news on the software side.

Microsoft continues to invest heavily in Windows 8 in hopes of making it a viable option as a third mobile ecosystem. While they won’t be at CES, I get the feeling they will be spending lots of money around it to market and promote the product.

RIM, again passing on a presence at the show, is gearing up for the launch of BB10, a make or break moment for the company. The launch is scheduled for January 30, and while I think it’s too little too late, expect to see a lot of BlackBerry ads toward the end of the month.

Samsung continues to invest in its alternative smartphone operating systems, Tizen and Bada. While Bada has been targeted mostly at the low end, Tizen, a mashup of various Linux mobile OS efforts, is a fully featured OS targeted for the bulk of the smartphone market. Samsung has announced plans for a Tizen model in 2013, and there are rumors that the follow up to their highly successful Galaxy S3 may use it.

There are also two emerging players to keep an eye on – Sailfish and Ubuntu for Phones. Sailfish is the product of a startup called Jolla created by former Nokia engineers, and Ubuntu is an effort to bring their successful Linux OS to phones in order to create a unified mobile/desktop/server experience. If you haven’t heard of either of these efforts, you should look at these two articles  – one on Sailfish and one on Ubuntu for Phones to get their take on the mobile experience (the hands-on videos in the articles are well worth watching):
Sailfish: Here comes the First Real Alternative to iPhone and Android (from Mashable.com)
Ubuntu for Phones: Canonical announces Ubuntu for smartphones (from Engadget)

Unfortunately for these challengers, the battle for supremacy in the mobile world is over. It’s been won by Android and iOS. While I like to think that there’s room in the market for a third (or fourth) mobile OS, reality proves otherwise. Android and iOS have separated themselves from the pack, and the gap is widening, not narrowing. The leaders have too much momentum, a large base of users, and most importantly, powerful ecosystems built around their platforms. The established ecosystems have the effect of locking in existing users and acting as a powerful lure for attracting new users.

So should incumbents and startups abandon the market? I certainly hope not. Innovation will slow if the market only has two choices and will grind to halt if dominated by one.

Whether the challengers are big or small, the odds of them becoming a major player in the market are stacked against them. However, as long as more players remain in the market, the mere threat of a serious challenger will force the leaders to keep innovating, pushing their operating systems forward, and copying incorporating the coolest features of the challengers and upstarts into their platforms and ecosystems.

And in the end, that can only mean one thing – we the users will benefit.