Samsung Tizen

The world’s largest manufacturer of Android smartphones is putting its clout behind another operating system. The question now is, will that lead to the creation of a third viable platform, or will it prove that consumers are so content with their Android smartphones and iPhones that they won’t care? Complicating matters is that it’s Samsung, not a lesser company, that is deviating from the two horse playbook and finally offering a device made with the Tizen operating system, an open source platform supported by the Linux Foundation.

Samsung has been promising Tizen-powered smartphones since the beginning of 2013, when it said that it would release “the best product equipped with the best specifications” with Tizen installed in either August or September. That didn’t happen, and now, the first Tizen-based smartphone will instead be the Samsung Z, a new device announced ahead of Apple’s WWDC keynote address. (Let’s not pretend that Samsung announced a new device one day ahead of its Tizen developer conference for any reason besides a desire to steal attention away from Apple.)

The Samsung Z doesn’t seem to be the device that many people were waiting for. It looks like most of Samsung’s other smartphones, the software itself looks a lot like Android, and so far it has only been confirmed for a Russian release in the third quarter. Tizen has been waiting for a champion, and instead it’s getting a mid-range smartphone that most people will probably ignore because it looks just like the Samsung devices they’ve been seeing for the last few years.

But the biggest problem with Samsung’s announcement is the fact that Samsung is the biggest manufacturer of Android smartphones. While that might make the company wish that it could drain some of the blood from Android’s cyborg heart, it also means that it will be making some Android smartphones for the foreseeable future. Why should consumers buy smartphones with unproven operating systems that look just like their Android-powered counterparts, which will ship with Android’s vast app ecosystem and the Google services on which they already rely?

Tizen might be a success. (I, for one, hope that it is.) Samsung might be able to ditch Android quicker than many would expect, making Tizen the only option for people who want its latest smartphones. Developers might clamor for the opportunity to work on a new mobile platform, and manufacturers might give a platform free from Google’s or Microsoft’s control a chance. These are all possibilities, and if you wear rose-tinted glasses, perhaps you can see them now.

I suspect, however, that the rest of us won’t be seeing them until Samsung announces a product that doesn’t appear to be exclusive to a second-tier market or made from a cookie cutter design that it uses for all of its other smartphones. The Samsung Z’s announcement raises some interesting questions, but it doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of answers.

[Image via Samsung]