May 13, 2013
Samsung has been known for heavily skinning Android, and for experiencing great success while doing so. Now, it seems like this could actually be in the name of supplanting Android altogether with a new OS: Tizen.
Unlike alternative measures like Ubuntu for mobile, there’s a big reason why a Tizen push should leave Google at least a little concerned: Samsung and Intel are behind it. Samsung is by far the biggest non-Apple smartphone manufacturer in the world, and them pushing a non-Android OS could be a huge blow to Android if they can transition their customers over to Tizen devices. Intel is still the biggest processor manufacturer in the world, and they would likely much rather have devices made using the x86 architecture that they primarily manufacture. ARM chips from Qualcomm, Nvidia, and others have largely powered mobile devices thanks to their low power draws. While Android can run on Intel x86 chips, an OS that supports it from the ground up would be a major boon for the company, and give them a foothold in the low-power-chip race that they’ve seemingly been falling behind in.
However, Android still seems like the safety net for Tizen, as the OS is compatible with Android applications via a compatibility layer. So for Google, this is a possible nightmare scenario: they could get replaced by a quasi-open OS that can use the apps from their OS, totally supplanting their work and leaving them in third place. Android is very heavily propped up by Samsung at the moment. I say that Tizen is quasi-open because while the OS is built on open source Linux components, Samsung controls the licensing of their SDK under a closed model. They could exert more control over the platform and rake in licensing fees if they prove that Tizen is the future, not Android.
This does all make Samsung’s current initatives make sense. They want to skin Android so heavily and add so many features because they would want the transition to a Tizen device to be smooth. They want developers to put their apps and games on Samsung Apps (and offering limited-time 100% revenue deals) in order to fill out their store and to make it easier for future submissions. There may be gaps in the apps that exist on both platforms, but Samsung is in a position to make putting apps on Tizen a must for developers if the platform gains traction.
And really, it’s the traction-gaining that will be difficult. Samsung has reportedly promised that a high-end Tizen device will come later this year, but there’s still a grand total of zero Tizen devices out there, and the Galaxy S4 is still running Android. Samsung tried its own OS in the past with Bada, which is now part of Tizen, but obviously it failed to gain any significant momentum. But now that Samsung is top dog among mobile manufacturers, and given their success in many products that could potentially be powered by Tizen, Google and Android need to be wary of Samsung pulling the welcome mat out from under them.