Tizen is clumsily positioned directly against Android and iOS. Its backers - Samsung, Intel, the Linux foundation, and a large community of open source developers with experience competing with and against market-leading OS platforms - are not that naive. Naïveté aside, Tizen can play an important role.
At the moment, Tizen’s most important role is a defensive one. According to Samsung’s Fourth Quarter 2012 Earnings Release [PDF>], 48% of revenues were contributed by its Mobile Communications Division, which includes a substantial contribution from Android-related devices. Samsung’s management needed an alternative in the unlikely event that Apple succeeded in winning an injunction against the sale of Android devices. Also, except for some royalties paid to Microsoft, Android is free. But should Google start charging for Android, Samsung would have an alternative.
Tizen has less dramatic roles to play. Android smartphones may not be the first choice for consumers from the BRIC countries when they exchange their feature phones for smartphones because of either price or indigenous market requirements. It’s unlikely that huge numbers of developers will add Tizen to iOS and Android development workloads. Windows 8 Mobile and BlackBerry 10 are ahead in line for this attention, and Mozilla and Ubuntu’s recent mobile introductions increase developer distraction from Tizen. OpenMobile promises that Android Apps can be 100% compatible with Tizen and other mobile OSes. Apparently, OpenMobile has ported Android’s Dalvik virtual machine and other libraries to Tizen. But there needs to be another business case for mobile device manufacturers to select Tizen other than that it is Android-compatible.
Tizen could fit many of the embedded processor applications in Samsung’s consumer products, such as televisions. A television could optionally run Tizen, Android, RTOS, or another OS. The user interface (UI) of Android apps often needs to be modified to work at the eight-foot distance from which consumers watch television. If the Android Play app market is not a factor in the consumer’s buying decision, all these OSes really become interchangeable.
The automotive application of Tizen is similar. There is an in-vehicle-infotainment (IVI) version of Tizen. One can imagine that Android would be the perfect OS to run many of the non-real-time control systems in cars for communications, entertainment and navigation. But like the television use case, the in-vehicle system requires a change of the UI to reduce driver distraction and ensure safety. The automotive industry working group GENIVI, responsible for accelerating the development of IVI systems with open source software, has selected Tizen. If Android was a member of this working group, no doubt Tizen IVI would be unnecessary. But Google so far has not chosen to join. In the automotive market Tizen is either an alternative or place holder for Android.
Intel, Tizen’s other major sponsor, has even broader interests than Samsung in the consumer market, hoping to deliver power-efficient Atom processors to televisions, set-top boxes and the devices that will make up the internet of things. The large open source developer community with Android and Linux experience is available to build custom apps for consumer device companies that find an advantage in Tizen.
Tizen will certainly find applications. Absent a major precipitating event, it’s unlikely that Samsung will divert the hundreds of millions of dollars it would need to gamble on unilateral displacement of Android on smartphones and tablets. And the development teams working to release Tizen 2.0 want to focus on convincing developers to build innovative apps for Tizen rather than argue with developers about why Tizen is technically and economically better than Android.