Tizen: interesting, but the smartphone market needs consolidation

Tizen reached 1.0 only recently, but there’s already a Tizen Conference going on – and during that conference, Samsung had a relatively barebones reference device running Tizen 1.0. The Handheld Blog has a seven minute video of the device in action, and while I’m very happy big players are investing in all these alternative platforms, I do have to wonder – how viable are they?

The Tizen prototype device is relatively simple and not particularly sophisticated – it’s also quite large, and doesn’t even have a camera. It’s pretty clear it was thrown together specifically for developers to get accustomed to Tizen, and the project’s relatively early state is reflected in the device’s and software’s performance.

So, what does Tizen look like? Well, it’s basically a hybrid between TouchWiz and Bada, with a firm dash of WebOS and Mozilla’s Boot To Gecko in that applications are written in HTML5. Due to its history, you’ll find aspects of both MeeGo and Moblin in there as well, especially at the lower levels – however, you won’t find MeeGo’s Qt APIs for application development in there. What you also won’t find – which I think is a damn shame – are the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries. EFL was to be a core aspect of Tizen’s base (the Samsung Linux Platform) and initially also of Tizen; however, the project is now going to be entirely HTML5.

This raises a number of interesting questions. WebOS combines both web technologies and native development, and is in the process of being released as open source. Mozilla is working on Boot To Gecko, which is also entirely HTML5-based. Nokia has its Harmattan and Meltemi MeeGo bastard children. Samsung has its – relatively successful – Bada operating system. And there’s bound to be a few more.

While I obviously applaud such diversity, I’m also wondering if it’s a wise strategy at this point in the smartphone market. This market is quite far removed from being an actual market, with far too many external factors – carriers, mostly – having an enormous amount of influence over what we can and cannot buy. With the large players backing this many different operating systems, I fear none of them will be able to capture any kind of serious mindshare (whether with users, developers, or carriers), dooming them all to death.

Even a market like the desktop operating systems market was effectively closed off, killing any kind of competition right dead. With that in mind, how do you think all these alternatives are going to fare in the even more restricted smartphone market? I wished things were different, but sadly, I have to conclude it would make far more sense for these parties to work together on a single, well-supported open source mobile operating system, based on Linux, incorporating ideas from the current myriad of disparate efforts.

As much as it pains me to say – I’m a geek, the more alternatives the better – I’d rather have one viable and well-supported alternative than a dozen stillborn unsupported ones. This market needs a single, fixed target – not a dozen moving and ever-changing ones.


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