Feature Article

January 04, 2013

Samsung to Sell Tizen Mobile Devices - Dumb and Dumber?

Let's get this this settled up front - the world absolutely doesn't need any more mobile operating systems. It's tough enough keeping things straight with those we already have - Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry…are we forgetting one? Remind us.

Samsung has gone down the path of delivering its own mobile operating system before. We all remember Bada. It was one of Samsung's less bright ideas, and one that eventually became merged with Samsung's other bright idea, its Linux and HTML5-based Tizen mobile operating system. Tizen happens to have the backing of Intel and is related to MeeGo (another mobile OS dead end), which isn't exactly something that strikes us as a gold standard to play up to. Besides Samsung and Intel, Vodafone and Japan's NTT DoCoMo both have a strong interest in Tizen, and all four participate in the Tizen Association, which was formed in January 2012.

As if Tizen isn't enough, now also we have Canonical unveiling a mobile version of its Ubuntu Linux platform  as well as Firefox looking to deliver a mobile Firefox OS. Trust us when we say these will all become immediate mobile dead ends. Never the less, while Ubuntu and Firefox are still in the process of being hatched, Tizen is now far enough along for Samsung to begin putting some mobile hardware into the field that runs the OS.

Samsung has publically noted that it will shortly begin to sell smartphones based on Tizen. Samsung notes in an e-mail statement that “We plan to release new, competitive Tizen devices within this year and will keep expanding the lineup depending on market conditions.” Samsung did not provide any other details. Our money is on Samsung making a formal Tizen announcement in February at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC). Further guessing on our part would run along the lines of Samsung partnering with NTT DoCoMo on this possible MWC announcement.

Tizen likely won't show up in any North American handsets. If, as we anticipate, Tizen becomes an unsupportable and costly dead end we never will. We can expect Japan to become the key test bed - and we may even see high end Samsung phones running it there, possibly followed by additional low cost handsets showing up in Europe over time. Time will tell if Tizen has any legs, but we're shorting the notion that it will prove viable. It won't.

Samsung may also have other plans for Tizen of a decidedly non-mobile nature, perhaps to run an entirely new TV platform. If that proves to be the case we may hear even sooner on Tizen than February, as Samsung is expected to break some very interesting high end TV news next week at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show that may go beyond the anticipated announcements of UltraHD TVs (which will have 4 times the pixel count of today's HD sets). The LiMo Foundation and Linux Foundation had stated back in September 2011 that they intended to develop Tizen for use in TVs, so the timing seems right to us for such an announcement.

Samsung is interested in Tizen for its mobile business primarily to stem the growth of its current dependence and near 100 percent reliance on Android. As Google begins to look to deliver its own hardware (either through partners other than Samsung or through its Motorola acquisition) Samsung has gotten progressively worried about maintaining its competitive and strategic edge against Google.

Samsung is right to be worried about this, but we don't believe Tizen is the answer. Rather, we believe that once Research in Motion (RIM) goes through the motions of its upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS and new devices launch, it will prove itself to be the right acquisition and the right OS to fit Samsung's needs in its entirety. We continue to see a RIM M&A move as the perfect fit for Samsung relative to its need to deliver a powerful enterprise mobile OS and a powerful, global and compelling alternative to Android.

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