Yesterday, during the most insane launch event in the history of technology, Samsung unveiled its next big flagship, the Galaxy S4. I really couldn’t care less about this new phone – another plastic phone that looks exactly like its predecessor – but the flurry of interviews with Samsung executives that followed is far more interesting. With them, Samsung has repositioned Tizen – and if you connect the dots, something interesting is starting to appear.
The Galaxy S4 event last night set a new standard for total pointlessness, and was so over the top and ridiculous I really don’t want to waste too many words on it. One thing stood out though – even if, by now, it should no longer do so: very few, if any, mentions of Android or Google. Here we have what will inevitably become one of the world’s most popular smartphones, yet there’s no mention of the operating system it runs, or the company behind said operating system.
Then there’s Samsung’s attitude towards Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8. Mildly put, the company doesn’t really see much value in any of them. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Samsung’s J.K. Shin said that “smartphones and tablets based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system aren’t selling very well. There is a preference in the market for Android. In Europe, we’re also seeing lacklustre demand for Windows-based products.”
So, the company is de-emphasising Android and Google, while at the same time talking down anything related to Windows. There’s one final piece of the puzzle – and that’s Tizen. In an interview with Bloomberg, Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile division, revealed that not only will Samsung release phones running Tizen later this year, they will be high-end.
“The Tizen phone will be out in August or September, and this will be in the high-end category,” he told Bloomberg, “The device will be the best product equipped with the best specifications.”
This is very much unlike what everyone assumed up until now. Up until now, everybody had assumed that Tizen would focus on the lower and middle end, with Android focussing on higher-end phones (and also low-end). This new statement by Samsung seems to contradict just that; Tizen will be on high-end devices.
Add all of this together and it becomes clear what Samsung is going for. The company wants to decrease its dependence on Google, and Tizen is the way they’re going to do that. For most Samsung smartphone owners, TouchWiz is Android, and since Tizen could easily get a TouchWiz-like user interface, the average consumer wouldn’t notice a thing. OpenMobile’s Application Compatibility Layer takes care of the application situation, and will allow Android applications to run on Tizen unmodified.
In other words, since most Samsung users are familiar with TouchWiz and Android applications, Tizen should not provide them with any difficulties – yet, at the same time, it will give Samsung control over its own platform, independent from Google. It won’t have to conform to Google’s wishes, it won’t have to deal with sudden code drops from the Android team – it can do what it wants.
Of course, this won’t happen overnight; it’ll be a gradual process that may take several years. I also highly doubt Samsung will drop Android altogether – most likely, Samsung’s big sellers, top-of-the-line devices will run Tizen, while others will run Android.
All this can’t be a coincidence. Interesting times ahead.