As Tizen, a mobile operating system (OS) being developed for smartphone and mobile devices by Samsung Electronics, has been in trouble for three years now, the global mobile and platform strategies of Samsung Electronics are being challenged. Tizen has been developed to be the third OS, challenging the current market led by Google and Apple. In January 2012, Samsung formed the “Tizen Union” with 12 companies including Intel of the U.S., Huawei of China, NTT Docomo of Japan and Orange Telecom of France. It has been expected that companies representing each country would create something good together.
However, there has not been a single smartphone for Tizen OS in the market for three years now. The “Samsung Z” with Tizen OS launch event, which was supposed to be held in Russia on July 10, was canceled without warning. This is the third time to cancel a Tizen phone release after last year and January this year.
The Tizen Union announced specific development plans at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain last February. Hong Won-pyo, CEO of the Media Solution Center at Samsung Electronics, said that Samsung will concentrate on developing Tizen OS, and Tizen phones will be released by Orange Telecom and NTT Docomo within a year.
However, smartphones with Tizen OS did not appear in the market, even after a lot of rumors. Rather, Sprint, one of the major telecommunication service providers in the US, and Telefonica in Spain, left Tizen Union. Some other partner companies gave up or delayed developing Tizen products due to low market demand potential. NTT Docomo said this January, “The Japanese market is not big enough to accept a third smartphone OS, after Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. It is not decided when to release Tizen phones.” This means that the release of Tizen phones is delayed indefinitely due to their low marketability. In order for Tizen phones to spread out, its practicality as a smartphone OS should be verified, but global telecommunication companies are skeptical.
Accordingly, Samsung decided to release an independent Tizen phone. Since low-budget smartphones with Samsung’s own “Bada” OS were very popular, and the labor costs for developers are cheap in Russia, Samsung believed that it would be easy to make applications for Tizen in Russia.
However, different from Samsung’s expectations, the application ecosystem has not been created in Russia as well, due to the low participation of developers. An official at Samsung Electronics said, “Tizen phones are not ready to be introduced in the market yet. When prepared to meet the needs of customers, they will be out, rather than be hasty.”
Tizen is not only mobile OS challenging Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, but also a universal platform to be applied to TV and other home appliances at the same time. Together with a Tizen phone, release of Tizen TV scheduled for the second half this year, but has been delayed as well. Lee Tae-dong, chief manager at the Video Display Business Division of Samsung, said, “Smart TV for Tizen OS will be first introduced at CES held in Las Vegas early next year.”
One of the main reasons for Tizen’s struggle is that Samsung Electronics is not used to creating a flexible application ecosystem. In order for an OS to be successful, many developers need to create many applications running under that OS. This requires close cooperation with outside developers, but Samsung focuses more on supervision and control rather than opening and sharing information. In fact, Samsung Electronics recently announced that applications created through its own software development kit (SDK) can only be registered in its application market “Samsung Apps,” which raised objections from many developers.
The fact that Samsung has enhanced cooperation with Google also blocks Tizen’s way. Samsung concluded a “cross license” contract with Google in January this year in which the two companies share their patents for next ten years. This impairs the importance of Tizen, a symbol of a “de-Google” policy.
Inside Samsung Electronics, many parts, including wearable devices, have returned to Android from Tizen OS. Samsung Electronics introduced the wearable “Gear 2” with Tizen OS in February this year, but the new wearable device “Gear Live” that launched last month was equipped with Android. The fact that Android is back in the game within four months is interpreted as that desire to continue to develop Tizen is getting weaker.
In the meantime, many competitors are ready to beat Samsung Electronics. Google, a major frenemy of Samsung, is trying to expand the territory of Android OS by selling out its subsidiary Motorola, and boosting Lenovo as a “dark horse” in China and the U.S.
Competition is also fierce in open-type platform structuring, one of the main purposes of Tizen. While Samsung Electronics is attempting to develop a platform to unify mobile and home appliances, Google, Qualcomm, and Apple, allying with other global companies, are preparing for a “post smartphone” era.
Other competitors to become “the third OS” such as Firefox, Ubuntu, and Windows will probably launch various new products at this MWC. Telefonica of Spain, which chose Firefox over Tizen, will introduce Firefox phones in Europe during the first half this year, and Microsoft will also expand the territory of Windows Phone, together with Sony and other Chinese manufacturers.