Tizen OS needs differentiation, clear roadmap

Support from industry giants Samsung and Intel will only help the Linux-based mobile platform that much, and support from device makers and developers is crucial for its long-term future.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Despite being backed by mobile titan Samsung Electronics and Intel, Tizen operating system (OS) will need better differentiation in terms of its app ecosystem as well as more clarity regarding the platform's future in order to win over developers and consumers from favorites iOS and Android.

Tizen is an open source, Linux-based OS that runs HTML 5 applications and is aimed at powering devices such as smartphones, tablets, and TVs. Linux Foundation took over its development in September 2011, after its predecessor Meego OS--developed by Intel and Nokia--was killed off.

In January last year, Samsung joined Intel as part of the technical steering group (TSG) leading the development of Tizen. The South Korean electronics giant subsequently announced earlier this month it will introduce Tizen-based smartphones in 2013.

Commenting on the developments, Wong Teck Zhung, senior market analyst at IDC Asia-Pacific, said it is going to be difficult for any emerging multi-device OS to gain ground in a mobile industry heavily dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS platforms. This applies not only to Tizen, but also Mozilla's Firefox OS and Canonical's Ubuntu mobile OS, he noted.

To have any shot at success, the alternative OS will need a good selection of apps and support from the developer and device maker communities as well as consumer acceptance, Wong added. Tizen OS, he noted, might suffer as it has a limited presence in these three areas and this was already a challenge for more established platforms such as Microsoft's Windows Phone, Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry and Nokia's Symbian.

While Samsung's involvement in Tizen's future is an advantage for the platform, it is not a guarantee for success though, said Jessica Kwee, research analyst at Canalys.

Kwee said: "The Samsung brand resonates pretty much everywhere, so it's plausible the company will invest a lot in ensuring Tizen is well known. But Samsung did not go quite far enough for [its own mobile OS] Bada, so one wonders how the strategy will differ this time round."

IDC's Wong added that Samsung's current stronghold in the global mobile arena would help put Tizen ahead of its competitors, but its standing alone will not push app developers to build content for the platform.

Samsung declined to comment on its development roadmap for Tizen and upcoming mobile devices.

Unclear roadmap a hindrance
Wong also identified the current "haziness" surrounding Tizen's roadmap, particularly on pricing and licensing, as a hurdle that needs to be overcome. From Samsung's end, he noted the company initially wanted to fold Tizen with its own Bada OS but there has been little said regarding integrating the two platforms since.

"It's not known which ways Bada and Tizen are going. App developers don't like uncertainty as they need months of planning to build apps. Given their limited time and resources, they rather choose already mature ecosystems for a greater chance of making money than with untested platforms with which they don't know if they'll get a return on their investments," Wong stated.

Furthermore, Samsung and Intel will have to do the "heavylifting" in terms of promotion and development work for the OS to succeed. "It depends on how they play their cards. Until some handsets are actually launched, Tizen doesn't [inspire] much confidence," he said.

Emerging markets key
Canalys' Kwee did note that Tizen can be positioned as an alternative to Android, and from the perspective of Samsung and other OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), the new platform acts as leverage should their Android strategies falter in the future.

Asia, in particular, could be a market the platform could find reasonable success in. If Tizen-based handsets are priced right--between the range of US$200 and below--in booming markets such as China, India and Indonesia, then the potential is there for consumers previously on feature phones to adopt it. Feature phone users do not really care which OS their devices run anyway, she said.

Wong suggested those overseeing Tizen should not restrict the platform to just Asia though. Emerging markets worldwide offer many opportunities since their lower-end smartphone market is huge and comprise mainly of feature phone users willing to try out new phones with different operating systems, he explained.

Partnering with local operators to subsidize Tizen handsets would also help drive sales in these markets, the analyst added.

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