As Samsung Update has reported previously, Samsung has long been working on an alternative to Android for it’s mobile devices, called Tizen. Visually, you’ll notice little difference between Tizen and recent Android Galaxy devices. The interface is basically the same Touchwiz you’ll find on the Galaxy S5.
Why then, has Samsung developed it’s own OS and devices that use it?
Note: This is the continuation of an article published earlier on Samsung Update. The first part of the article can be found here: Samsung Spends Millions Developing its Own Tizen OS.
Reason Two: Freedom
Technically, Android is open source, and any manufacturer is free to use and customize Android in any way they want. But. The Android OS you see on your phone consists of two major parts. One is the Android Open Source Platform (AOSP). This is the basic OS, and contains the Linux Kernel, part (but not all) of the User Interface, and the runtime virtual machine. This is all open source, and any manufacturer is free to do with it as they wish.
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The other major part of Android is called Google Mobile Services, or GMS. This includes all the code necessary to run maps, use the Play Store, make in-app purchases, use location services and Google +, and much, much more. It also includes Google Now, Gmail, Chrome, and other apps. The catch? GMS is not open source. To use GMS, a manufacturer must conform to certain Google requirements that significantly limit a manufacturer’s freedom to customize the OS. Over time, Google has been moving more and more core OS functionality out of AOSP and into GMS. The reality is that the Android OS users see on their phones, and the functionality users have come to expect, is no longer open source.
So a manufacturer who wants to develop a mainstream Android device has a couple of options. One, follow Google’s ever more restrictive guidelines, and get the full suite of Android and Google capabilities. This is the approach every major Android phone and tablet manufacturer has taken, with one exception.
Or a company can design and build it’s own suite of replacements for those capabilities, including search, location services, maps, email, and more, and forgo access to the Play Store and other Google services. This second option is the approach Amazon has taken with it’s Kindle tablets. This is a costly process, and there are other issues beyond cost. Many of the applications in the Play Store, including the most popular, rely on services provided by GMS. Amazon, which understands it needs a large library of applications that run on it’s Kindle tablets, has developed its own App Store, and its own counterpart to most of these services. But as Android continues to update GMS, Amazon must continually update it’s own counterparts.
Nokia has taken a different tack. The Nokia X runs an AOSP based OS with Windows services on top, instead of GMS. The search engine and map app are Bing, the app store is Microsoft’s etc. There’s no need to offer compatibility with Google Maps, the Play Store, etc.
Amazon has the resources to do this, but even so it is believed by many that Amazon makes no money on it’s Kindle devices, using them as a platform to sell Kindle ebooks, on which it does make money. Nokia could rely on Microsoft’s ecosystem. Few other companies have these options. The reality for most manufacturers is that you conform to Google’s standards, or you don’t sell mainstream devices. Even Samsung has apparently faced pressure from Google, as it’s been reported that Google pressured Samsung into limiting some of it’s Touchwiz UI elements on the Galaxy S5.
Samsung has chosen a third option: Conform to Google’s standards, but at the same time gradually develop many of your own counterparts to Google’s apps and services. Samsung devices typically come with two music apps, Google’s and Samsung’s. And two calendar apps, two app and book and music stores, and Samsung’s own backup and sync services in addition to Google’s. Developing these services and apps can’t have been cheap, and I suspect few buyers choose to use Samsung’s versions instead of Google’s. On the surface, it would seem to make little sense.
But with the release of Tizen devices it the picture starts to clear. The infrastructure Samsung has been building, and the apps and services they provide, slide right into the Tizen model. Even Touchwiz, often criticized for its impact on performance and deviation from “stock” Android, makes sense. By isolating its users from Android, Samsung can, at least theoretically, transition it’s users from Android to Tizen almost invisibly. Tizen will even run Android apps via an Application Compatibility Layer. Touchwiz is even reported to run more smoothly on Tizen than on Android.
Tizen, it appears, will also become the standard underpinning for many of Samsung’s future devices. It is already used for Samsung’s Gear line of smart watches and one Samsung camera. Sources report that Samsung will release Tizen-based smart TVs. It’s also said to be modular and light enough to be used in cameras, home automation devices, appliances, automobiles, and other devices. Will your next Samsung refrigerator run on Tizen?
If Samsung can make this happen, they cease to be simply another OEM, and become a competitor to Apple and Microsoft, controlling the entire ecosystem. With name recognition approaching that of McDonald’s, billions of dollars in revenue, wealthy partners, and an advertising budget that makes its competitors cry, if anyone can make this work it’s Samsung.
It Won’t be Easy
It’s not likely to be as easy as all that, though. While it will run many Android apps, it is unlikely to support all apps, nor all features of those apps it does support. In the long run, Samsung needs developers to create native Tizen apps. Samsung is making it as easy as possible to develop apps, but developers tend to limit their efforts only to those platforms which have reached a critical mass of users. Samsung is clearly hoping that app compatibility will help it reach that milestone, but it’s far from guaranteed.
Samsung has already failed once. In 2010 it introduced a mobile OS named Bada, and the Wave S8500, a smartphone running the Bada OS. While it sold well initially in Korea, it went nowhere in the long run, capturing some 0.4% market share.
While Samsung has been developing Tizen for a number of years, it looks to be well behind Android in terms of maturity. OTOH, if Samsung can significantly undercut the pricing of similarly spec’d Android devices, this might not matter to the many users who use only a small fraction of their phone’s capabilities. An off-contract Tizen phone at $200, vs. an off-contract Android phone for $500, could be a compelling value proposition, if Samsung can support that price point.
Tizen faces serious, and entrenched, competition in most of the markets in which it will compete. Camera makers seem to prefer their own proprietary software. Microsoft and Blackberry are major players in the automobile marketplace. Google has introduced Android Wear, it’s own Android platform for smart watches, and Apple isn’t far behind. Both Google and Apple are working on a home automation infrastructure.
Tizen won’t be immune to patent suits and licensing fees. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Motorola and others have large patent portfolios. It’s not a leap to believe they’ll have their lawyers pouring over Tizen looking for potentially infringing tech.
It will be hard for Samsung to monetize the OS. Microsoft charges its OEMs to use Windows Phone OS. Google uses the rich data it’s collected on millions of users to sell targeted advertising. Samsung can do neither. Perhaps the savings in Android fees, and the freedom to innovate will be enough to offset that, but it will be a challenge. Maybe Samsung will make the lack of targeted advertising a selling point.
Does Tizen make sense? In this writer’s humble opinion, it’s a huge gamble for Samsung with far more downside risk than up. On the other hand, I haven’t made billions of dollars in the consumer products marketplace, so who am I to question some obviously very smart, very successful people? In a maturing marketplace, where it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself from your competitors, Tizen just might be the ticket that allows Samsung to do that.
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