Samsung Electronics

Getting into the game

Samsung is the only big smartphone player lacking its own operating system, something it plans to change with the launch of Tizen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 November, 2013, 3:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:04pm

Most mobile-phone users have never heard of Tizen. Neither have car owners or anyone with a refrigerator.

Samsung Electronics wants to change that.

The South Korean electronics giant is in a quiet push to make its Tizen operating system as familiar as Google's Android or Apple's iOS. Its ambition does not stop there. Samsung sees the software being used in the car, fridge and television, too.

The first developers' conference in Asia for Tizen wrapped up on Tuesday after two days, bringing together app developers and Tizen backers from Samsung, Intel and mobile operators.

Samsung did not announce a Tizen phone, but it made a pitch for developers to create apps for the mobile operating system that has yet to be seen in the market. It promised to give out US$4 million in cash to the creators of the best Tizen apps.

Samsung supplied about one-third of the smartphones sold worldwide in the third quarter, nearly all of them running on Google's Android. Its early bet on Google's free-of-charge operating system served Samsung well, and the company's rise to top smartphone seller also helped Android become the most used mobile platform in the world. According to Localytics, 63 per cent of all Android mobile devices in use are made by Samsung.

Samsung’s goal is to establish an ecosystem centred on Samsung

But while Samsung was wildly successful with selling its Galaxy phones and tablets, it had little success in locking Galaxy device users into music, messaging and other Samsung services. Google, however, benefited from more people using its search service, Google Play app and other Google mobile applications on Galaxy smartphones. Owners of Galaxy devices remain for the most part slaves to Google's Android update schedule and its rules.

About nine in every 10 smartphone users are tied to either Google's Android or Apple's iPhone ecosystems, generating profit for Google and Apple every time they buy a game or application on their smartphone.

That is partly why Samsung wants to expand its control beyond hardware to software, by building its own mobile operating system.

"With only hardware, its influence is limited," said Kang Yeen-kyu, an associate research fellow at the state-run Korea Information Society Development Institute. "Samsung's goal is to establish an ecosystem centred on Samsung."

The consolidation of global technology firms in the past few years reflects such trends. Apple has always made its own operating system for the iPhone. Google acquired Motorola Mobility in 2011 and Microsoft announced in September its plan to buy Nokia, leaving Samsung the only major player in the smartphone market that does not make its own operating system.

Samsung executives told analysts last week that the company planned to beef up its software competitiveness through acquisitions and splashing cash on the development of mobile content and services.

But Tizen's start appears bumpy. Samsung said earlier this year the first Tizen phone would hit the market this autumn, but it has not materialised. Samsung declined to comment on release schedules.

Although Choi Jong-deok, Samsung's executive vice-president overseeing Tizen, said a launch of Tizen phones or televisions would happen "very shortly", analysts said Samsung was unlikely to reveal the first Tizen device until February next year, when the company said it would announce winners of its Tizen app contest.

During the developers' conference, Samsung gave more clues about how its first Tizen device would look and revealed that it had recently launched a Tizen-based camera in South Korea.

Tizen would work across a vast range of consumer electronics made by Samsung, encompassing mobile devices, televisions, fridges as well as wearable devices. The mobile operating system will also work with cars. Samsung and Intel said Toyota Motor and Jaguar Land Rover were working together to bring Tizen OS to vehicles.

"You can build an application once and relatively easily move from device to device," Mark Skarpness, an engineering director at Intel, told the conference.

Samsung and Intel are also aiming to capture a bigger share of business in emerging markets, where demand for cheaper smartphones is growing. Skarpness said future versions of Tizen would support lower-end phones, the same direction that Google is taking with its latest version of Android, KitKat.

"I got an impression that Tizen was benchmarking Android," said developer Park Min-hyung, who attended the conference. "Speakers at the sessions said they adopted strong features from Android. But with Android's place well established in the market, I wonder how Tizen would undermine the front runner."