In a world where iOS and Android combined account for more than 90 percent of smartphone shipments, how is it possible for the rest to compete — let alone a new entrant arrive?

Tizen, the open-sourced operating system that is already backed by Samsung and Intel, turning to incentives with the launch of Tizen App Challenge boasting a prize fund of over $4 million. The challenge launched today although it is not yet taking applications, which are expected to open in a few days.

The initiative is focused on a range of countries, but specifically aims to engage developers in China — the world’s largest smartphone market — and Samsung’s home turf of South Korea, Tizen says. Getting developers on board to create compelling apps and content is a crucial part of building a smartphone experience that appeals to consumers, and that virtuous circle is crucial to snaring more developers.

The total prize money of $4.04 million will be paid out to more than 50 developers, with apps judged across nine different categories.

The winning of entry within each of the three gaming categories will take home $200,000, with $100,000 and $40,000 on offer for the two runners-up. The prizes for regular apps — which are ordered in six categories — are slightly lower, at $120,000, $60,000 and $30,000.

Tizen is also encouraging HTML5 development and the developers of the top ten Web apps will each get $50,000.

Interested developers have until November 1 2013 to enter their apps, after which judging will take place with the winners announced in December.

The move is an interesting one since there has not been a lot of communication from the folks behind the project, as most of the interest has stemmed around Samsung’s involvement.

The Korean giant has committed to make devices based on Tizen as part of a strategy of diversification which has seen it hedge its bets on Android by making Windows Phone devices. Android is very definitely Samsung’s first choice, but — with the company saying it will launch its first Tizen-powered phone this year — we won’t have to wait long until we get a glimpse of what else it’s been working on.

It may not draw the limelight like the Galaxy S4, which is said to be close to 20 million shipments within six weeks of launching, but just getting Samsung on the roster has proven to be big publicity for Tizen, and it is likely to help attract other handset makers and developers — even if the device is not a priority for the Korean electronics firm.

Tizen isn’t the only new boy in the mobile platform game. Finland’s Jolla is a similarly open operating system while desktop Linux specialist Ubuntu is also developing a system for smartphones and tablets.

Like Tizen, Jolla is targeting China — which will get its first phone right after it launches in Finland in Q4 2013 — and catering to the mid- and low-end smartphone market appears to be the initial strategy of these new players.

Given that Windows Phone and BlackBerry have struggled to make a dent in the iOS-Android dominance, it isn’t clear that these new hopefuls, that enter the game with zero market share and little consumer awareness, will be able to make any kind of splash.

Realistically, if you’re a developer, the real argument is around whether to prioritize iOS or Android, whether to develop for Windows Phone or whether BlackBerry’s decline has made it irrelevant. Tizen is going to need to show significant traction, if it is to become part of the discussion — but $4 million in prizes will at least attract the first set of developers.

Headline image via Thinkstock