Samsung may not have unveiled any new handsets at CES 2013, but that doesn’t mean that the Korean firm has taken a break from shaking up the smartphone world.
As the New Year dawned, the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturer announced that it would be launching smartphones running its own Tizen platform at some point this year. While details beyond that initial declaration remain vague, the fact that Samsung is testing the waters outside of the Android world is significant.
Devices such as the Galaxy S III and Note II have propelled the Korean manufacturer to the very top of the smartphone market, all running Google’s mobile platform. Samsung has built Android into what are several of the world’s leading handsets, usurping Nokia at the top of the industry in terms of sales.
However, Google has recently taken greater control of Android, lessening the open-source ethos that the platform previously had. The search giant bought Motorola’s mobile arm last year, giving it an in-house manufacturer with which it can work closely.
Fears from within Samsung that the firm could be frozen out of the Google equation may have led to the move towards Tizen, with the Korean manufacturer possibly developing a further native OS (in addition to its oft-maligned Bada) in case its Android business becomes unviable.
Tizen itself is not an entirely Samsung-built edifice, having been developed from Nokia’s MeeGo platform as an open-source project. Chip manufacturer Intel has taken the lead with the software’s development along with Samsung, presumably with the intention of furthering the moves into the smartphone world it has already made alongside Motorola with the RAZR i.
Like Android, Tizen is based on the Linux software kernel. The platform will likely come to budget handsets first, with rumours that Japan’s NTT DoCoMo network will be the first to carry them.
As mentioned, Tizen isn’t Samsung’s first attempt at taking control of a mobile platform of its own, with the Bada OS having made an appearance on several budget handsets in the past.
Bada never received a massive push from the manufacturer and didn’t even make an appearance in the massive US market but did however appear on the Wave series of handsets. The platform was interesting since it was a wholly proprietary creation by Samsung and even bore a user interface which closely resembled the TouchWiz UI seen on many of the firm’s Android devices.
Samsung has since announced that the Bada project is to be folded into Tizen, although some reports have suggested that the software could be released as an open-source offering or adapted for smart TVs.
However, Samsung’s dabbling in smaller, nascent operating systems could be indicative of a trend across the smartphone industry. In the present climate, several new ideas are emerging from leading manufacturers and platforms are being developed that take the ideas created by Apple and Google and steer them in different directions.
The internet and tech press has recently been awash with talk of Firefox OS, an early-stage project that has spawned from the Mozilla Foundation’s browser of the same name. Released in an open-source form, Firefox aims to provide a platform for developers to work on, with an emphasis placed on compatibility with HTML5.
ZTE has already signed-up as a manufacturing partner and is planning to release a Firefox handset in the European market at some point in the near future.
Another new platform which has made headlines recently is Ubuntu, a mobile version of the Linux-based desktop operating system. Canonical, the creator of the software, has demonstrated its work recently but has yet to announce any handsets that will launch running the platform.
However, Ubuntu is set to appear as a download that can be installed on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in February. It will be interesting to see how the software performs and whether or not it becomes more widely available.
Lastly, there is Sailfish, a project which, like Tizen, is being developed from the MeeGo platform. Featuring a gesture-based interface which bears something of a resemblance to Google’s recent iOS apps, the versions which have been seen so far feature a UI with aesthetic similarities to the later versions of Symbian.
So while Android and iOS continue to dominate the smartphone market, with Windows Phone 8 performing well and BB10 having the potential to take market share, there are a number of potential upstarts which could shake up the OS landscape over the next few years.
How many of these will rise to significance remains to be seen, but with Google taking greater control over Android and buying up its own manufacturer it could be that the platform loses its position as the go-to software for many smartphone makers. If this does happen, there are plenty of contenders ready to take its place.