The Tizen Association announced 15 new members, including Baidu, SoftBank, Sprint, and ZTE, following a Samsung leak of an updated TouchWiz UI for Tizen.
Tizen has always been the presumed heavyweight among the new crop of mobile Linux operating systems, yet it has increasingly seemed more like a wispy shadow. Now, despite growing signs that Samsung’s first Tizen phones may not ship until late 2014, and doubts whether the company will put much effort behind the OS now that it has made peace with Google, the Tizen marketing push has cranked up for the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This week, the Tizen Association industry group that supports the Linux Foundation hosted Tizen project, announced 15 new members for its partner program (see farther below).
The news quickly followed Samsung’s Twitter leak of a screenshot that showed an updated version of its TouchWiz UI for Tizen. The Tizen connection was made by Nowhereelse.fr, which matched the icons to a Samsung Tizen document.
Feb. 24 Tizen rollout teaser
(click image to enlarge)
The same UI update is also expected to run on Samsung’s Android phones, including the upcoming Galaxy S 5 expected to be announced at the Feb. 24 event cited in the teaser image. One earlier rumor suggested Samsung’s first Tizen phone may actually be the Galaxy S 5, which will be available with either Android or Tizen. However, a somewhat different prototype has been popping up with more frequency. Of course, there may also be more than one initial phone.
Tizen Association grows, despite growing doubts
The Tizen Association dates back to 2012, but the partner program was only launched in Nov. 2013, with 36 members. The new members include one major mobile manufacturer (ZTE), a Chinese search giant (Baidu), a major content provider (AccuWeather) and two carriers: Japan’s Softbank Mobile and U.S.-based Sprint, in which Softbank owns a controlling interest.
Other new partner members are mostly software and services companies, including Acrodea, CloudStreet, Cyberlightning, DynAgility, Gamevil, Inside Secure, Ixonos, Nomovok, Piceasoft, and Red Bend Software. The new members join existing members including Access, Panasonic, Sharp, and The Weather Channel, bringing the total up to 51.
Sprint had previously been a member of the more influential Tizen Association Board of Directors, but left the group last year along with Firefox OS supporter Telefonica. Other Board of Directors members include the main two backers — Samsung and Intel — as well as Fujitsu, Huawei, Korea Telecom, LG, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, and Vodafone. Most of the carriers listed here were also key members of the previous LiMo Foundation, whose LiMo spec has been folded into Tizen. (This week, Vodafone joined the somewhat similar Carrier Advisory Group for the rival Ubuntu Phone project.)
Japan’s NTT DoCoMo had been expected to roll out the first Tizen phones this spring, along with Orange and Vodafone, and possible Korea Telecom and SK Telecom. Last month, however, the carrier announced an indefinite postponement of its Tizen launch. We should find out on Feb. 24 whether the other carriers are still on track to release Tizen phones in the first half of the year. Earlier this month, a Wall Street Journal story suggested Orange was also reconsidering its launch. Perhaps to correct the appearance that it was abandoning Tizen, NTT DoCoMo submitted one of the two testimonial quotes in the announcement of the new members.
According to the WSJ, the wariness about Tizen has been spurred on by the lack of response from developers to the Tizen organization’s generous $4 million Tizen App Challenge, as well as Samsung’s recent patent deal with Google and Google’s subsequent sale of Motorola to Lenovo. If Tizen had been intended as a hedge to keep Google from grabbing more control over Android — a platform that has launched Samsung to the top tier of technology firms — then the Google/Samsung patent deal combined with Google’s sale of Motorola appear to have softened Samsung’s paranoia. The Google deal with Samsung also calls for Samsung to tone down its TouchWiz interface to keep it more in line with stock Android.
It’s hard to say which of these chickens led to which eggs, or vice versa, but it does appear that the Google deals could delay Tizen, or at least limit its deployment. The WSJ story suggests that a Lenovo/Motorola behemoth, as well as growing competition from other Chinese vendors, will only increase pricing pressures on Samsung, making it harder to launch its new Tizen platform.
Gordon Kelly at Forbes, meanwhile, suggests that despite Google selling Motorola at a loss, the search giant outfoxed Samsung. First, when you factor in Motorola cash on hand, savings from deferred tax assets, and Google’s previous sales of two other Motorola units, among other factors, Google lost very little money on the deal, despite buying Motorola for $10 billion and selling it for $2.91 billion. In the meantime, it received a promise for Samsung to tone down TouchWiz and possibly to delay or mute Tizen, while also giving Lenovo a chance to keep Samsung in check in a way Google never could with Motorola.
Google also retained key Motorola patents, as well as its highly regarded Advanced Research and Projects (ATAP) group. ATAP is working on cutting edge wearable technology, as well as Project Ara, which aims to build modular, highly customizable smartphones.
Then again, Samsung is still the leading mobile manufacturer in the world, and one of the most profitable, so keep your handkerchiefs tucked.