There aren't many second acts in technology, but Samsung's Tizen and LG's webOS are fighting for one, starting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Both operating systems will be featured in new TVs by the two top competitors in the space, Samsung and LG Electronics.
Tizen is Samsung's effort to break away from its dependency on Google’s Android OS. While Android is free and Google puts a lot of R&D into it, the license requires every licensee to offer the same apps. Samsung is trying to sell $600 phones, and now Xiaomi has come along with Android phones at a quarter of the price and with the exact same look, feel, and apps. Needless to say, Samsung doesn't like that.
The problem for Samsung is that Tizen has been effectively inert in the smartphone market. It had no apps and minimal developer support. The launch of its Tizen smartphones was delayed repeatedly in 2014. The last release date, December 12, came and went with no phones. Now there are rumors of a January launch.
Now come reports of Samsung using Tizen to power its TVs, beginning with new units to be introduced at CES this week and shipping in February. Shifting to TVs makes sense because Samsung doesn't need developer support. It can put its own home-grown apps in the TV and it's good to go. The question then becomes whether they will build an app store or ecosystem of Smart TV apps, or just put their own on the sets.
Meanwhile, LG Electronics is preparing its second generation of webOS-powered TVs to show at CES. webOS has one of the most tortured histories in tech; it was first developed by Palm, which was too weak to do anything with it. Palm was bought by HP during then-CEO Mark Hurd's spending spree, but one year later he was gone and so were HP webOS devices. LG bought out the OS and developer group in 2011.
LG first showed off webOS TVs back in August, but GigaOm declared it "screwed up" due to LG's mishandling. Still, if this is screwing up, LG should screw up more. It has partnered with red-hot GoPro, DIRECTV, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, HSN, SHOWTIME, Drama Fever and iHeartRadio to offer content on LG Smart TVs.
However, they may have screwed up one thing – word is webOS 1.0 sets will not be upgradeable to version 2.0. That's what you get for being an early adopter. Sometimes you get burned.
But it's also widely known that LG watches what you watch and its license agreement stipulates that it has the right to monitor your viewing habits, and if you don't agree to it, the smart TV features are disabled. This has had privacy advocates in an uproar for a while.
In both cases, this is a second chance for the failed operating systems. Depending on how they are used, it might be a chance to rebuild their developer base and work their way into smartphones from the respective companies.