Samsung is the undisputed king of Android, with device sales exceeding Apple’s massive numbers in some quarters. Even with all the success Android has brought the South Korean company, it has always maintained a platform of its own – a backup plan, if you will.
Earlier this year Samsung merged its Bada OS into the Tizen Project, and has been quietly working with a variety of companies to develop the open source operating system. At the recent Tizen Developer Summit, the list of Tizen partners grew by 36 companies. It’s a far cry from Android, but maybe this is Samsung’s next big play.
For all the success Samsung has marketing Android phones and tablets, there is an almost palpable disdain for the essence of Android. At all of Samsung’s recent events, the word Android was hardly mentioned, and the company has gone out of its way to build alternatives to a large number of Google’s core apps like Translate and Hangouts. Samsung clearly wants the focus to be on its devices and services, not on the software coming out of Mountain View.
While Tizen is much newer than Android, it all looks a bit familiar (see the image below), and it has a number of features in common with Google’s platform. Tizen is Linux-based and supports both ARM and x86 hardware. It has been designed to adapt to multiple screen sizes as well – from small touchscreens to full-sized laptop displays. Like Android, it’s also open source, but the way it is managed could be the main appeal to Samsung.
Anyone will tell you that Android is open source, but there are degrees of open source. Android is sometimes described as one of the “least open” open source projects currently in development. Google releases the source code for anyone to download, but the platform is developed in secret with limited input from developers outside the company. Code can be committed to the Android Open Source Project by Samsung, Sony, or anyone else, but it’s up to Google what goes into Jelly Bean, KitKat, or any other version of Android.
Tizen is under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation and is managed by the Technical Steering Group, composed of Samsung and Intel (which also merged its MeeGo work into Tizen). This model is more conventionally open source than Android, but Samsung also has a lot of power to guide the development of Tizen – it’s the kind of sway Samsung will never be able to muster over Android.
Many of the companies getting on board with Tizen see it as an alternative to Android for highly customised devices. Google maintains a leash on Android’s core features by certifying devices. If a phone or tablet doesn’t have certain software components, it won’t pass Mountain View’s Compatibility Test Suite to get the Google apps. Tizen, on the other hand, can be tweaked and manipulated in whatever way a carrier or OEM wants.
The sticking point with transitioning to a new OS is apps – Android has them and Tizen doesn’t. That’s really the point of the developer summit. The Tizen Association wants to broaden support for the OS to make it viable.
Samsung has teased devices running Tizen, but so far the only device to ship with the software is the Samsung NX300 camera. If Samsung and other companies can slip Tizen into the entry-level smartphone market, it could begin to build up respectable numbers and attract some development. These entry-level devices played a big part in Android’s meteoric rise, so maybe the Tizen Foundation is hoping lightning strikes twice. Samsung isn’t jumping ship from Android anytime soon, but it’s clearly building an escape hatch just in case.
For more on Samsung's budding OS, see our article on whether Samsung might be contemplating a long-term strategic shift to Tizen.