Tizen- Samsung’s own OS

The name ‘Tizen’ has been bandied about in mobile tech circles for some time now but for anyone other than the most ardent follower of mobile matters, the odd-sounding moniker mightn’t mean all that much.

For those who are still unsure what exactly Tizen is, what it might mean to the general tech consumer, and wondering whether it’ll prove a viable competitor to Google’s Android, we’ve taken a closer look at this next gen-operating system…

Doing the robot

Since 2007, Google’s Android mobile platform has gone from strength to strength, its inextricable rise to prominence mirroring that of the smartphones it powers.

In six short years, Android devices have become pre-eminent in the smartphone space thanks mainly to the continual innovation and powerful marketing strategies of Samsung- something that has seen the Korean firm’s output dominating worldwide sales and establishing Google’s OS as the mobile platform of choice for OEMs, developers and consumers alike.

Whether Android’s seemingly unshakable position would have resulted without Samsung’s backing, or Samsung’s dominance of worldwide smartphone sales would have happened without Android in tow, is a debate that still rolls on.

Android is number one in the world

What is clear however is that JK Shin and co are increasingly looking at alternatives as a way to maximise potential revenues.

Why so? Because whilst Android may feature on its best-selling wares, the spoils from that particular eco-system – be it from in-game purchases, streaming services such as Play Music, or the lucrative mound of data accrued from such services (that can be subsequently used to leverage other Google products) – don’t go into Samsung’s bank account.

The solution to such a conundrum? A ‘home-cooked’ operating system that whilst open-source in nature, has the reigns held somewhat by Samsung. Enter Tizen…

System addict

So, this Tizen then. You’ve probably gathered that it’s a mobile OS and that Samsung has its finger in this particular software pie.

Most casual observers probably aren’t aware however that, much like Android before it, Tizen has its roots in Linux and is governed by a ‘steering group’ comprising of device manufacturers, software developers, and mobile network operators.

Samsung and chip maker Intel are the key drivers of the initiative first galvanised in 2012 – Tizen rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Intel and Nokia’s much talked about (but never really made it out into the open) MeeGo OS and Samsung’s decision to incorporate its ailing native platform Bada into the new venture.

Nokia’s MeeGo never really got a fighting chance

The aim, although not explicitly stated as such, appears to be to take on the might of Android by extending the reach to third party devs by supporting JavaScript, CSS, and most pertinently, HTML5.

The fledgling OS is not restricted to mobile devices however – the Tizen Foundation envisage the platform’s versatility allowing it to power netbooks, tablets, TVs, and in-car systems.

The latter in particular seems to be a sector ready to embrace the platform with director of the Tizen Foundation and Intel platform and business manager, Chris Croteau, recently commenting that the OS has “a strong base built up in automotive” and that the “automotive grade Linux consortium, led by Toyota and Jaguar and Land Rover, is all based on Tizen.”

Jaguar F-Type
Is Tizen destined for Jaguar?

Indeed, this ties in with the Tizen Foundation’s gathering of support from no less than 36 other companies including Huawei, Fujitsu, Panasonic, Konami, eBay, and Japanese network NTT Docomo to call on in their quest to broaden commercial possibilities for the platform beyond that of Samsung’s initial goal of lessening its dependence on Android.

So, the cornerstones all appear to be in place, so when will we see it on an actual phone?

Left to their own devices

The cynical out there might suggest that Tizen could have a touch of MeeGo’s smoke and mirrors about it, given that the internet has been awash with talk of the OS since its launch at Mobile World Congress 2013 and yet actual devices running it have been thin on the ground.

Since then, reports suggesting a Tizen-powered smartphone from Samsung surfacing before the end of that year (later commuted to ‘September 2013’) came and went with the operating system finally breaking cover on the Samsung NX300M, a digital camera.

Recent developments however have looked more promising – a mid-November report published by the Korea Herald covering a local think-tank on the future of smart TVs shed more light on the situation. Quoting the head of Samsung’s visual display unit, a Tizen-powered TV will not launch until the OS makes its smartphone bow, now slated for 2014.

Samsung Tizen RedWood
The Samsung Z9005 RedWood

This, when coupled with a video of the platform being demoed on a developer unit called the Z9005 Redwood doing the rounds, at least suggests that Samsung and the rest of the interested parties haven’t forgotten about Tizen.

As ever with this kind of caper, Samsung has remained tight-lipped, choosing to ignore tech journalists calling it out on its unfulfilled promises of launch dates and the continual shifting of goalposts. The resulting information vacuum has of course caused the rumour mill to go into overdrive with industry analysts and the like going to town on how Tizen will eventually manifest itself in hardware form.

The latest addition to the saga comes via the announcement of the Tizen 3.0 iteration at the Tizen Developer Summit in South Korea last month.

The new variant is said to include support for 64-bit chips, which given that next-gen smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 are tipped to rock such architecture, is significant and adds weight to rumours that the next Samsung flagship could appear in both Android and Tizen versions.

Unfortunately for eager Tizen-ites, the release date for version 3.0 is given for Q3 2014, so we could be waiting for quite a bit longer.

We’re gonna need a bigger app store

If what we know of Tizen so far is correct, the OS looks to be on to a winner. The extended reach enabled by support for other coding languages, the versatility that allows it to be utilised in other non-mobile devices (plus a string of high-profile partners lined up to get on board), support for 64-bit chips and the ability to sustain 3D user interfaces, all bode well.

BlackBerry World

If history teaches us anything though, it’s that mobile OS’ live or die by the wealth of apps available in their app stores. Just ask BlackBerry.

So, with that in mind, it’s safe to say that Samsung and all who sail in the good ship Tizen will have to pull out all the stops to pique the interest of third party developers and get them creating high-quality apps to entice a potential user-base.

Thankfully, those involved in the venture foresaw this and set about creating a series of incentives to get devs on board, the first of which was the ‘Tizen Port-a-Thon’ – an initiative that targeted developers for Samsung’s now defunct native OS, Bada.

The invite-only scheme opened in April this year and encouraged Bada devs to register and submit apps for entry into the Tizen market, offering $3,000 as a basic incentive and providing developers with hardware on which to tweak their wares.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, Samsung (and the Tizen Foundation) followed that up with the announcement of the ‘Tizen App Challenge’, a similarly positioned initiative only this time offering a combined total of $4m in prizes for those devs successful in getting their apps certified.

The Tizen App Challenge ran until December 2013 and offered financial reward for apps in various categories including a hefty $200,000 grand prize for game app developers, and perhaps most notably a $50,000 purse for each of the top ten rated HTML5 apps.

Whether this will provide app creators with the impetus they need to develop for Tizen remains to be seen, but given that the Tizen Foundation has also partnered with app crowdfunding outfit appbackr as well as third party ‘middleware’ porting tools including Construct 2, and Havok’s Project Anarchy, the signs are positive.

Brian Warner, Senior Member Services Manager for Linux Foundation Collaboration Projects said of the partnerships: “We’ve been really impressed with the flurry of new developer tools and activities in support of Tizen and firmly believe in the value of the competition because history has shown time and again this is the best way to foster vibrant, robust ecosystems.”

That’s a wrap

From what we’ve learnt during the course of this little ‘examination’, it could be that Android may well have a viable competitor to contend with in the near future should all the pieces fall in to place.

Samsung, Intel and the rest of Tizen’s interested parties have clearly done their homework and addressed the main pitfalls of getting a new OS and associated eco-system off the ground.

Well, except one that is; turning the heads of both developers and consumers with an actual Tizen device. On that front, the silence has been deafening but given that those other two mobile platform upstarts – Jolla’s Sailfish and Mozilla’s Firefox OS – are now out there on commercially available devices, we’d hedge our bets on a Tizen phone showing up soon.