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Tizen Could be Good for Android

Tue, 11/19/2013 - 7:47am
Ben Munson

Tizen might end up being the cure for Android’s fragmentation.

The first Tizen Developer Conference in Asia last week found Samsung pushing its Linux-based, HTML5-loving mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets but also for connected cars and connected devices throughout the home. Right now Tizen is only publically available in the Samsung NX300 camera but if Samsung gets its wish, Tizen will be in everything the company makes.

Considering the growing support for the OS—Tizen announced 36 new partnerships last week—that level of permutation is rapidly approaching reality.

From a purely smartphone standpoint, Samsung giving up Android presents many interesting potential outcomes. IDC puts both Samsung and Android firmly on top of the world in the third quarter, both crushing Apple as the nearest competitor. The fallout from a Samsung-Android break-up might not be enough to knock either one from the top spot. That would depend on if more Samsung loyalists swing away from Android or vice versa.

But the possible benefits of having Samsung out of the Android ecosystem could be immense. One of the biggest setbacks for Android—particularly for developers—is the vast amount of fragmentation spread across the user base. The Google Dashboard puts adoption for Jelly Bean (Android’s latest before KitKat) at just above 50 percent almost a year and a half after it was announced. That woefully slow migration to the newest Android version is thanks in part to the unpredictable individual schedules for updates held by OEMs and carriers. Samsung has long held a reputation for not exactly being timely with sending out Android updates. Put part of that on Google’s update schedule and rules. Losing one of its earliest and its biggest partner, Samsung, could force Google to revise its practices to keep OEMs and end-users happy.

With Samsung out of the picture, the door would open for Android developers to feel better about building for the latest version of Android and not just the latest version available to Samsung users—the single biggest Android audience.

A happier and more targeted developer community would be good but Google could end up on the short end of the stick. Google doesn’t make money from licensing Android. It simply sits back and rakes in the extra ad dollars generated by putting Google web properties front and center on as many high-use mobile devices as possible. So having its biggest renter in Samsung move out might set Android’s audience back so far that developers follow Samsung to Tizen. And it’s difficult to see how much slack would be picked up by Huawei, Lenovo and LG, or if any of them would be able to post a better Android upgrade track record if they scaled to Samsung’s current market size.

If Samsung can attract enough partnerships and a developer base to build out the Tizen ecosystem, it’s likely the company’s shift away from Google will occur and that it will be seismic. It’s hard to imagine who’ll fare worse in that divorce, but it’s nice to at least think the Android kids worldwide will get a more stable home out of it.

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