Mobile World Congress 2014

Can these smartphone firms take on the big guys?

Mobile World Congress: Check this out

With Apple, Samsung and Google's Android holding on to their titles as the heavyweights of the smartphone world, it can seem daunting for other smartphone makers and operating systems to enter the ring.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the smartphone market surpassed the 1 billion mark for the first time in 2013, with handsets using Android and Apple's iOS accounting for 95.7 percent of all shipments in the fourth quarter and 93.8 percent for the year.

However, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, that has not stopped a range of alternative smartphone offerings emerging, each with a new take on how to enter the crowded marketplace.

Jane Silber, the CEO of Canonical, the British company behind software company Ubuntu, told CNBC that there has not been a lack of players in the smartphone market, but that not enough have brought something new to the table.

"There has to be a window of disruption and opportunity," she said. "We think there's absolutely room for another player here..and there is real demand from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and operators for another option. They are increasingly pressured in an all-Android world and they don't have access to the Apple world."

Sliber argued that as smartphones are introduced alongside tablets, smartwatches and smartbands, the opportunity for new players was greater.

"If the world of personal computing stops at the phone, then we're in an Android and iPhone world. That's kind of the way it is," she admitted.

Software focus

In this space, Ubuntu has focused on its software to rival iOS and Android. Ubuntu's open-source software has already proved popular among tech enthusiasts, and last year, the company launched a crowdfunding effort for the Ubuntu Edge, a hybrid smartphone-PC device that was designed to run on Ubuntu's open source software and could also be a PC. The effort raised $12.8 million, but fell $19.2 million short of its aim.

Silber said that while the Edge was never brought to fruition, the effort showed the market was ready for something new, that there was a need to see a convergence between PC and smartphone.

(Read more: Ubuntu smartphone axedafter crowdfunding drive fails)

Ubuntu's phones that were unveiled in Barcelona, using the devices Meizu MX3 and BQ Aquaris. Ubuntu less concerned about the actual ergonomics of the phone itself. Silber believes a software that is easy to use and allows for customization is crucial.

The low-end model

The Ubuntu phones will go on sale for between $200 and $300. That compares to another software company, Mozilla, who used Mobile World Congress to introduce a $25 smartphone. Whereas Ubuntu believes user experience is central, Firefox obviously sees an opportunity at the low-end of the market to become a major smartphone player.

Mozilla's launch comes as the International Data Corporation (IDC) announced that India holds the key to future growth in the smartphone market, with feature phones - lower-end mobile devices with less advanced computing ability and connectivity than smartphones - making up a large portion of mobile handsets on the subcontinent.

(Read more: Mozilla says new chip paves way for $25 smartphone)

Mitchell Baker, the chairperson of Mozilla, told CNBC, "The parts of the world where people are buying their first smartphones are very important to us. At Mozilla, we look like a product company but we are a mission-based organization."

Dual-screen is future of smartphones: Yota CEO

The gimmick in the phone

While Ubunutu and Mozilla focus on software and pricing respectively, Yota Devices is the company that in December launched the world's first dual-screen smartphone, with a screen on both sides of the phone, with the back of the phone displaying an always-on electronic paper display.

In a note, CEO Vlad Martynov said, "YotaPhone's arrival on the market last year marked one of the first game changers in smartphones in many years. Yota Devices proved that there is an antidote to the always-dark smartphone screen."

Launched in Austria, Germany, France, Spain and Russia, Martynov said the the latest, updated model will be launched in 20 more countries. Explaining the importance of two screens, Martynov told CNBC, "We probably know that every time we need data, we need to make four or five clicks to wake up the phone, open applications…which disrupts us and disrupts people around us…and I think this is a solution."

—By CNBC's Kiran Moodley. Follow him on Twitter @kirancmoodley