Ask folks about mobile operating systems and most will probably tell you that it’s a two-horse race: Apple’s iOS versus Google’s Android.

The mobile OS landscape isn’t this way because other companies haven’t tried.

Microsoft has done some interesting things with Windows Phone, and Palm’s webOS looked pretty darn promising when it launched.

For a variety of reasons, however, the market has coalesced around iOS and Android and in technology, the strong often get stronger as brands are established and ecosystems gain critical mass.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the race is over. Apple’s iOS is, of course, only available on Apple devices, so mobile phone manufacturers looking for a modern OS that can help their devices compete with the likes of the iPhone lineup embraced Android.

Doing so was pragmatic at the time, but reliance on Google has been a source of tension, frustration and worry. Carriers also have a love-hate relationship with Android due to limitations around customization.

Introducing Tizen

So a number of major players decided something must be done. In January 2012, they formed an alliance under an organization called the Tizen Association, with a singular goal: “facilitate open opportunity by providing a fresh platform that offers a high level of flexibility in service selection and deployment.”

A detailed by CNET’s Roger Cheng, the Tizen Association, which counts major companies like NEC, Panasonic, Orange, Sprint, Huawei, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO as members, is essentially under the control of Samsung and Intel and could prove to be “Samsung’s secret weapon in the mobile wars.”

This year, Samsung plans to release its first handsets running Tizen, which is based on Linux and, unlike iOS and Android, treats HTML5 applications as first-class citizens. In fact, there’s no Objective C or Java here: developers seeking to build apps that are distributed in the Tizen app store can do so using HTML, CSS and JavaScript without having to ‘wrap’ them in a webview.

Should you be paying attention?

Needless to say, Tizen faces an uncertain future. Despite the clout of its backers, establishing a competitive number three in the mobile OS space won’t be easy. Just ask Microsoft, which has invested large sums into Windows Phone with relatively limited success.

But Tizen has one thing going for it: mobile phone manufacturers and carriers have a huge incentive to move away from Android. As NTT Docomo’s managing director of strategic marketing, Kiyohito Nagata, observed, “If we become a dumb pipe, our revenue will continue to shrink.”

In other words, building an OS on which mobile manufacturers and carriers can tap into revenue from the application layer of the mobile market — perhaps the most lucrative part of the market going forward — could be a life and death proposition for these companies.

That, for obvious reasons, gives them a great incentive to push Tizen, and even if they don’t get it right the first time, or it takes longer than they would have liked to gain some traction, everybody in the mobile space, from developers to marketers, should pay attention:

Android isn’t going away any time soon, but some of the most powerful players in mobile are committed to minimizing Android and if they have their way, an already complex and fragmented ecosystem could become even more complex and fragmented in the coming years.