An executive at Samsung has been speaking to Reuters today about the company’s plans for future phones – given the recent Galaxy S5 launch. Apparently they’re working on making phones on their own “Tizen” platform.
If Tizen sounds familiar, it is because it is the operating system that runs on Samsung’s newest smartwatches: The Gear 2 and Gear Neo. But rather than leave it to wearables, the company want to use it in phones too – with plans for a “high-end” Tizen device towards the end of May, as well as a mid-market one later in the year.
What’s significant about this is that this isn’t Android – this means that apps designed for their existing phones won’t work, there will be no Google Play, and no compatibility. Instead, the Tizen phones will be new from the ground up, and have their own app store.
This might sound like madness: why would you want a phone with limited app support? Don’t we already have Windows Phone and Blackberry for that? Perhaps it is because Samsung have become arrogant?
Samsung are by a long way the biggest Android phone manufacturer. Though Google provide the operating system and the apps, it is the South Korean company that are churning out the plastic rectangles – not to mention providing an extra layer of apps and functionality on top of Google’s basic offering.
Unfortunately for Samsung, this arrangement means that they only tend to get cash once: when the phone is sold. In comparison, because Apple make their devices and own their own platform, they not only get paid when someone buys an iPhone, but take a cut on every app sold too.
To remedy this, Samsung need to own their platform – and that is no doubt the motivation behind Tizen. If they can make Tizen viable, they can junk Android, kick Google out of the picture and keep all of the money.
Samsung, given the runaway success of the Galaxy line are clearly thinking that the Samsung brand in consumer minds will trump concerns about where their apps will come from. This is a dangerous game to play – will people really switch if they can’t download the apps their mates are all using? Do you really want to be the only person who isn’t on WhatsApp or Instagram?
It isn’t a hypothetical either – we’re currently seeing this play out in real time with Blackberry and Windows Phone. Both platforms are struggling with only a few percent market share because despite nice hardware (in the case of Windows) or having previously been a Big Deal (Blackberry), few people are tempted by the devices because they’re not Android or iPhone. Both are struggling to achieve the virtuous cycle of more apps, leading to more users, leading to more apps (and so on). Can Samsung really beat this with Tizen?
Of course – this is all speculation with an added dose of logic. We don’t know much about Tizen as a phone operating system yet… we barely know what it is like on smartwatches having only two devices to look at. Perhaps Samsung have something revolutionary up their sleeves… or perhaps they’re about to waste a lot of time and money?
By James O'Malley | April 16th, 2014