What the Revolutionary War and Samsung's mobile strategies have in common
Every history buff, second grader, and Schoolhouse Rock (no relation to our PandoHouseRock series) fan knows the battle of Bunker Hill and its main refrain: "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." Though this particular utterance was driven by a special "our muskets aren't terribly accurate and we don't want to die" brand of fear, its message – don't make a move until you're guaranteed to hit – can be applied to anything from combat and warfare to product strategies and board rooms. And it seems like Samsung, at least, is taking a little piece of Revolutionary advice.
The Korea-based manufacturer has confirmed its plans to build a device running the Tizen operating system to Bloomberg Businessweek, making it the first manufacturer confirmed to be running the open-source mobile OS. That means that Samsung, who has collaborated with Google on the most Nexus devices, ships the largest number of Android phones and tablets, and has the best shot at making an operating system that doesn't start with "i" or rhyme with "schmamdroid" successful will now be going head-to-head with Google.
This wouldn't be the first phone Samsung has shipped without Android, but it could be the most important. Samsung either doesn't own the platforms it builds on top of, as with Windows Phone and Android, or its efforts don't have any traction in the US, as with its "bada" operating system. Tizen could change that. And, of course, the company could continue to build Android-based devices just in case, allowing it to keep an eye on the platform's developments and subsidize its own efforts.
But why now? It's been established that Samsung is doing well on Android, and Google's operating system continues to offer compelling new features, like the so-smart-it-hurts Google Now. Why leave a money-maker? Well, because Google had to go ahead and acquire Motorola.
“The Tizen was born as Samsung hoped to lighten its growing dependence on Google on concerns that its top position in the smartphone market may weaken following the Google- Motorola tie-up,” Byun Han Joon, a Seoul-based analyst at KB Investment & Securities, told Bloomberg Businessweek. Never mind that Google is just now said to be putting Motorola to use as a hardware manufacturer and letting it be more than just a shell for its patent portfolio. The fact that Motorola hasn't gotten preferential treatment to this point doesn't matter, because it still could, one day.
So now Samsung finds itself profiting off of Google's platform while it continues to look away from Android and towards other solutions. The company has worked closely with Google for years, developing the search giant's Nexus devices (the flagship Android devices bearing Google's name) and Chrome OS computers, including multiple versions of the Chromebook laptop and Chromebox mini desktop. If any company were to get any closer to Google, well, it would have to be acquir – oh, wait. Right.
Samsung opted for a similar strategy with Apple. The two tech giants, long embroiled in a seemingly never-ending patent dispute, have had a, well, odd relationship for years. Even as the two duked it out in the court room and the market and Samsung copied Apple, Samsung was supplying chips that powered the Cupertino-based company's iOS devices. Now, Samsung and Apple weren't as close as Samsung and Google, but there's a bit of a pattern here.
Operating so closely with its largest rivals has allowed Samsung to steady its aim before pulling the trigger on its own products, ensuring as few "misses" as possible. (Which isn't to say that every Samsung device could be considered a real "hit," but the company is doing pretty well.) Hell, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that Samsung will release this Tizen-based phone with some form of support for Android apps, or to watch as the company continues to make Android devices until – or if – its Tizen devices really take off.
It could be argued that Tizen is coming into the market too late to make a real difference. The Verge's Vlad Savov this morning levied that exact charge against the "Ubuntu for phones" operating system developed by Canonical, saying "The trouble is, the mobile industry calculates winners and losers on the basis of weeks and months, not years." Savov has a point – iOS and Android are firmly entrenched, and anyone just entering this market is likely shit out of luck. But if there's any manufacturer who could make another operating system work, it's Samsung, for all of the reasons described above.
And there's always Bunker Hill to fall back on. Despite the ammunition-saving advice, the Americans ceded the ground to the British. But they did so with vigor, and they took out more than a few of their enemies along the way. Samsung doesn't have to win ground with Tizen in order for its devices to be successful. It simply has to bloody Apple and Google a bit and remind them that they won't always be the kings.
[Image courtesy Wikimedia]