Samsung’s Making It Hard to Care About Tizen

In general, I like the idea of all these up-and-coming smartphone platforms. While I’ve got some serious doubts about their abilities to seriously compete against the platform heavyweights, it’s always nice to see some fresh faces and give the industry a little shot of innovation. I don’t think anyone has a solid grasp on the impact that Firefox OS or Ubuntu will make once they’re full-on launched, but I wish them all best, regardless. Tizen, on the other hand, has been a lot more difficult for me to care about, and I place much of that blame squarely on Samsung.

Tizen’s been kicking around for a while now, with Samsung and Intel leading the charge. Now Samsung is finally on-track to launch Tizen-running hardware, which should be arriving towards the end of Q3 2013.

In contrast to the very low-end hardware that’s been associated with platforms like Firefox OS, the latest news we have from Samsung is that its Tizen launch hardware could be pretty high-end, placing it on even footing, performance-wise, with the mature hardware we see running Android.

You’d think that getting that sort of news would leave a smartphone enthusiast like myself hopeful and excited, but instead it’s just reinforcing my doubts about Tizen. Why is that?

Perhaps its mainly the fault of us in the press, but I’ve been getting a seriously self-serving vibe from Samsung and its Tizen aspirations. Time and time again, Tizen is positioned as Samsung’s “backup plan” of sorts, giving it an alternate mobile platform to jump ship for, should it outgrow Android, and tire of Google’s control over the evolution of the platform. There’s even a new theory being tossed about today that Samsung intentionally bungled its WP8 devices in an effort to remove Windows Phone as a realistic alternative to Android, and give it more of a reason to invest in the arrival of Tizen.

Why’s that all so bad, though? I’ll admit that there are probably a lot of personal prejudices at play here, as I tend to root for the little guy, rather than the company that’s already dominating its industry. With Jolla and Sailfish, the company’s trying to find its space in a crowded market, and see if it can’t offer something the other guys don’t. Ubuntu has a dream of unifying platforms across mobile devices and PCs. Mozilla wants to strip a smartphone down to its core and present a streamlined product that will be extremely affordable. Samsung, as far as I can tell from its dealings with Tizen, is just interested in bringing itself more power.

I don’t even think anyone’s suggesting that Tizen would be more profitable for Samsung, only that the company wants more control over the software its products run. I might be able to live with that if there was a flip side for users – that Tizen would be a big win for Samsung, but at the same time it would deliver a platform that would revolutionize how we interact with our phones and make us über-productive. I’m not getting a lick of that, though, and the dialogue continues to be “Tizen could be great for the companies involved.”

Ubuntu and Mozilla have been very forthcoming with sharing their upcoming platforms with us; we’ve seen early Firefox OS ROMs from Sony, and there’s the OS simulator available for us to play with, and Ubuntu has its own ROMs for Nexus devices. Even if these are still works-in-progress, they’re getting users involved, and making their cases for relevancy. With Tizen, on the other hand, there hasn’t been the same interaction with users, and while hardware has been available to developers, we’ve not seen any similar effort to engage the smartphone community as a whole.

By not doing more to share Tizen with us, and explain why it might be worth checking out later this year, Samsung’s only reinforcing my fears that this is little more than a power play. There’s almost an attitude that Samsung doesn’t need to sell us on Tizen, because we’ll just buy whatever smartphones the company releases, like simpletons who don’t know Android from a hole in the ground and just think “Samsung makes smartphones I like.”

Even if this feeling I have towards Samsung and Tizen is undeserved, Samsung isn’t doing anything to help correct my perception. News of the platform arriving on high-end hardware only has me thinking even more strongly that Samsung would really love to make an end-run on Android, swap in Tizen, and hope no one notices. Of course, it’s not going to be that simple, even if that was true, but I needn’t be thinking these thoughts at all.

Samsung has to be aware of what people are saying about Tizen and the company’s plans for it. It needs to be proactive, like Mozilla and Ubuntu are doing, and reach out to convince users that Tizen will give them something new, something better, and something worth leaving Android for. We’ve got four or five months to go – plenty of time in which to get the word out – so now it’s up to you, Samsung.

Give us a reason. Show us that Tizen is something more than just the answer to a question that no one was asking in the first place.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!