The Tizen software platform has been flying slightly below the radar for a couple of years now, but its time has come. Tizen has a common core, plus four profiles: Tizen Mobile, Tizen TV, Tizen IVI (in-vehicle infotainment), and Tizen Wearable. Tizen also has some very significant board members and partners. Tizen’s lineage includes Samsung’s Linux platform and the LiMo (Linux Mobile) operating system.
Watchers of the mobile and connected TV device categories might remember MeeGo, an open-source operating system that was a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin platforms. MeeGo was used by IPTV set-top maker Amino Communications in its Intel Atom-based set-tops in 2010, though they later abandoned it. In 2012 Intel changed its focus and joined Samsung in Tizen, which in effect, made Tizen MeeGo’s successor.
Samsung raised some eyebrows with Tizen at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in February, positioning it as a potential replacement for Android in Samsung smart phones and wearable devices. At the 2014 Tizen Developer Conference, which happened to coincide with Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco last week, Samsung demonstrated that its own Tizen transformation was well underway.
Last week, Samsung also introduced the Samsung Z, its first Tizen-based smartphone; and Galaxy Gear 2, a Tizen-based wearable. Tizen was even on TV: the Tizen Developer Conference had several Tizen TV sessions, and a cloud-based content repository for mobile users called Tizen Cloudbox, was being demonstrated on a Samsung smart TV. And also last week, Multichannel News reported that the TV browser and middleware provider Espial was collaborating with Samsung on an RDK-based solution (although the article said nothing about Tizen).
Is Tizen good or bad for the TV technology space? It depends on what the definition of “TV” is: a set-top box with a TV attached, versus a connected smart TV that has no set-top box. Presumably, Samsung’s existing smart TV app development platform, which supports HTML5, CSS3 and adaptive streaming standards, will be under Tizen. On the pay TV side, now that Liberty Global has joined Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the RDK venture, a Tizen-based STB wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility (assuming that the RDK were to be ported to Tizen). Liberty Global’s Horizon set-top uses Samsung hardware. But a Samsung Tizen STB is only a matter of speculation.
Another interesting direction for Tizen is in the Connected Car, where it could stand to challenge iOS, Android and Microsoft – just as it is doing in smartphones. Tizen is available through the GENIVI alliance, which provides a Linux-based environment for automotive IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) systems.
All of this begs two questions. First, is there room for “yet another” TV software platform? I think, yes. It certainly won’t hurt the TV software space: there are tens of middleware providers, and these days, large operators are tending more toward custom-built set-top software environments using components from multiple suppliers, rather than monolithic single-vendor stacks.
Just today (June 9), Accedo, which provides an application platform for pay TV, connected TVs and the Microsoft Xbox, announced that it was joining the Tizen Association program. Clearly, Accedo sees a market opportunity – the question is whether it’s for Accedo in Samsung smart TVs, Samsung smartphones and tablets, or in pay TV set-top boxes (where Accedo has numerous customers). Accedo positions itself as a provider of “…HTML based video and music streaming applications for connected devices.” So perhaps it’s all of the above. Actually, given what Accedo does, they must also recognize that they can ride Tizen’s coat tails into two new categories, wearables and cars.
The other, broader, question: “Is Tizen good for the industry overall?” Again, I think yes. It could have a huge and positive impact anywhere Android is sold. Unlike Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia, which have near negligible mobile device share today, Samsung is the largest provider of Android devices. So an across-the-Samsung-board switch to Tizen will displace a significant percentage of Google’s Android base. Assuming that Google cares, this potential for disruption could force Google to make Android better. (I’m skeptical, since Google’s history is to abandon every iteration of its products and platforms as soon as a replacement becomes available. Ask Logitech about Google TV).
There’s one caveat: any effort by Samsung to force-replace Android with Tizen in devices already in the field may be met with some resistance. While Apple’s fiercely loyal iDevice users squaked about the changes made by iOS 7, the underlying Apple ecosystem did not change. By contrast, the act by Samsung to replace the entire Android ecosystem with one of its own is a much bigger move. Ask yourself as an Android user: what would you do if you turned on your device one morning and found Tizen there? Or as a Mac user, what if MacOS X suddenly disappeared and were replaced by Windows?
If successful, can it mean that Samsung is more powerful than Google? Perhaps Tizen means that Samsung has finally decided that its product is not a product at all: it’s a relationship, and not just the next device. Google has to decide the same thing: if Google only cares about ad sales, at the expense of a trustworthy experience with the Android brand, then it will be a matter of time before Google’s Android OEMs go looking for alternatives. Samsung may be only the first to do so. I’m encouraged: despite Tizen’s Samsung ties, device competitors Huawei and LG are on Tizen’s board while ZTE and Panasonic are members of the Tizen community.
I was a fairly late smartphone adopter – I didn’t have my first one until 2012, and only because I inherited it from another family member. It was the replacement for a lost phone, until the lost one turned up. So I decommissioned my 2007-vintage Nokia XpressMusic 5310 and popped my SIM and MicroSD cards into my new Samsung Exhibit II 4G. T-Mobile is my carrier. Wow! The Future!
But then reality set in. The Android experience did not meet my basic expectations. I found the user interface for basic phone calling to be awkward – dialing with one hand is difficult. Even though I would set the screen to time-out after 10 minutes, it would go dark in 10 seconds, so the act of deleting a voicemail meant that I would have to re-awaken the phone with the power button. The controls for apps were different for each app – no consistency. Often, the phone couldn’t pick up a network provider, even in London where six of them would be in range at any given moment.
Apps are unstable: Firefox could never get past two pages before crashing. Perhaps this instability has to do with poor memory management. One memory management app allows the user to quit all of the processes running in RAM, but within a few minutes they would always reactivate and sneak back in. On the left is a screenshot of this app after clearing 7 apps from RAM. The screenshot on the right shows the same app after clearing ram again six minutes later. This even happened with apps that I thought I had un-installed.
But above all, my greatest concerns went to security and privacy. Android’s ‘Privacy’ settings include ‘Back up my data’ and ‘automatic restore.’ That’s all. Under ‘Location and Security,’ there’s an option to ‘Install encrypted certificates from USB storage.’ Another is to ‘Add or remove device administrators.’ Wow, what an invitation – anyone could pick up my phone when I wasn’t looking and install a mole! Stop and think about this for a minute. The level of access should be a concern to anyone – especially corporate users concerned with data security.
Then there’s the level of access that’s available to software developers. Let’s look at a popular app whose purpose is to use the LEDs of the camera’s flash as a torch to illuminate your path. In reviewing the permissions associated with this app, it’s hard to believe that a flashlight is its true purpose. This app can access your storage, report your location, read the status of your phone calls, and has full access to the Internet. Really? A flashlight? And no way to disable this. The last item in the permissions list notes that it can control the hardware as a flashlight.
By contrast, Apple does not grant app developers access to phone or log functionality. Also, Apple provides system-wide settings for privacy, and both system-wide and app-specific settings to enable or disable location-awareness. in iOS, users can also enable a setting that shows them that an app has reported your location and when. Users can also disable location-based iADs (Apple’s mobile advertising platform).
Android’s location-awareness can be controlled system-wide but not app by app. If you want to grant access to Yelp or Urbanspoon but not to your flashlight, you’re out of luck. I don’t know whether later releases of Android have addressed this because my phone has been dead-ended. I can’t update the OS past Android v2.3.6 (Gingerbread), so I’ll never know (unless I look at the specifications of later releases, but what consumer will do that?).
In the end, privacy was the thing that ultimately won me away from Android, and even kids steeped in these new technologies agree with my decision. A few months into my smartphone, I reached a point where I stopped downloading apps for which I couldn’t control my level of privacy. Soon I realized that this meant I had to stop downloading nearly all apps. For some time afterward, I remained hooked on accessing the Web while mobile, but ultimately I said to myself: “What’s the point when my phone always crashes and I’m always looking over my shoulder?” My phone is a necessity. The rest is not.
And yes, we’re bashing Android, but this article doesn’t do the bashing justice. Juniper Networks estimated that 276,259 apps presented security issues, up 614% from 2012. Apple security isn’t perfect either: at the 2013 Black Hat conference, Georgia Tech researchers showed how malware could be injected into Apple iOS devices via the power connector. But this is nothing compared to kinds of hacks being publicized for Connected Cars. The University of Washington and UC San Diego conducted tests on several connected vehicles and were able to access and disable a vehicle’s controls via the car’s electronic tire-inflation sensor.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there right now that Android is the winning mobile device operating system wars, and Apple’s influence in that market space is waning. This is reflected in the declining market share numbers for Apple in both the smartphone and tablet categories. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot of people out there have opted for Android, been disappointed, and gone to (or back to) iOS. IPhone loyalty is higher also.
For now, I’m back to a Nokia XpressMusic 5310, which a nice gentleman in Shenzhen can sell to you on eBay, unlocked, for about $70. Later I’ll be one of those going to the iPhone, once the next generation is available. [ ...once again, dodging rotten tomatoes from those accusing me of being an Apple fanboy... ]
Ahhh, the Future!
[ Revised August 26: Another data point that acts to reaffirm my decision to leave Android is that there’s conjecture Google is devising a new kind of advertising measurement based on the number of gazes to ads viewed via Google Glass. A sort of “ad impressions” metric on steroids. I know this has nothing to do with my afore-referenced phone, but I don’t have to like it either. ]
Viaccess-Orca recently posted a thought piece on their company blog, about Apple and Microsoft shaking things up in the OTT video world. It ended with the question: “Who will dominate the living room?” Given the success of the Xbox and Xbox LIVE, versus Apple’s currently serviceable but functionally lackluster entry in the TV category, my immediate reaction was “Microsoft,” but on further reflection, I have to say “leaning toward Apple, but Android is a contender too.”
Now that Microsoft is leaving the TV infrastructure business (Mediaroom), they are on a more even footing with Apple. Both companies have content ecosystems that are tied with their devices and with the cloud. Both have vulnerabilities. While Apple has been absent in the game category, Microsoft has stumbled in two very strategic device categories (ceding the smartphone and tablet categories to others, not to mention its current challenges with Windows).
If revenue is your measure of success, Xbox has sold more units than Apple TV, but Apple has a clear advantage in content revenue. According to researcher NPD Group, Apple iTunes has 65% and 67% of online movie and TV content unit sales, respectively, compared with Microsoft Xbox Video at 10% and 14%.
Usability is a key to the living room and design will make all the difference. The old adage about Web design still counts: more than two clicks and you’ve failed. Usability has always been an Apple hallmark, but as Viaccess-Orca’s article pointed out, Microsoft offers speech and motion control (and what’s next for Siri?). Apple has Airplay but Microsoft has SmartGlass.
The dark horse in this race is Android because third party developers have more of a say on the user experience. Android offers more control over the conventions of interactivity, while Apple and Microsoft have hard-and-fast user interface rules. Whether device companies (Samsung comes to mind) can deliver on that premise remains an open question.
PS: I’m surprised that Viaccess-Orca resisted the temptation to offer their own opinions about winning the living room, being developers in that space themselves, with a five million user living laboratory through Orange (France Telecom).
Last week’s announcement that Google would acquire Motorola Mobility caused a fair amount of tea leaf reading by observers in industry segments ranging from mobile to tablets to TV (both the traditional variety of TV and the interactive Internet-enabled variety). Myself included. A lot of people reflected on Google’s pending (if it goes through) acquisition as a way that Google will arm itself with a bounty of patents that might deter potential Google adversaries.
I think that this event occurs at an inflection point for two device categories: tablets and mobile smartphones. Smartphones first. Briefly speaking, I agree with others that say the MMI acquisition will drive some mobile device companies away from Android unless there is some contractual assurance by Google that MMI won’t get any kind of competitive advantage over other Android licensees. But where would those device companies go? Right to Microsoft. Verdict: a win for Microsoft, and indirectly, a win for Nokia.
But the tablet story could have been more interesting. Unlike the smartphone, whose market dynamics are a three-player game between Google, Apple and Microsoft in a mature category, the tablet category could have had four or five players for some time (“tablet wars” could have echoed the “browser wars” of the 1990s-2000s). At first glance, the MMI-Google alignment seemed to compress the number of tablet operating systems down to two: Google (Android) and Apple (iPad/iOS). But I don’t think that game is yet quite over.
According to Strategy Analytics, Android had 30.1% share of the tablet category as of Q2 of 2011, up nearly 30% from a year eariler. Apple had 61.3%, down 33%. The fact that Android is on the rise bodes well for MMI’s Android-based Xoom tablet, which has been available from Verizon and others since early this year. Because Motorola is an incumbent supplier to pay TV service providers as well as to wireless carriers, the Xoom is well positioned in front of two kinds of consumers.
Granted, Hewlett-Packard’s sudden discontinuation of the H-P TouchPad – and the rest of its WebOS business, formerly Palm, which was acquired by H-P just 16 months ago – also helped consolidate the tablet category. Not only did H-P discontinue the device, it discontinued the whole operating system. RIP Palm, really this time. The TouchPad was launched amidst an expensive advertising campaign and promises that it would be everywhere in our lives – only about 50 days ago. It went into fire sale mode a few weeks later with a permanent $100 discount. A 64GB version was launched in Europe just last week! Clearly, the decision to kill that business was made some time ago – and the launch was done just to clear inventory. H-P seemed to be “all in” – H-P even launched a store – until H-P was suddenly “all out” (except for the inventory). Only Carly Fiorina could love such a debacle. Sad.
RIM’s PlayBook tablet debuted to mixed reviews. This device anticipated that HTML5 would win over Flash for video delivery (and had a little help from Apple). As a nod to its corporate enterprise accounts, it’s tied to the Blackberry ecosystem – but it’s at a time when iPads are gaining acceptance in the enterprise. RIM’s QNX operating system was ranked #4 in tablet OS market share by Strategy Analytics in Q2 of 2011, that share was only 3.3 percent. The tablet OS called “Other” made up just 0.7 percent, but H-P was not even part of that, since the TouchPad launched in July.
In summary then, Apple and Google are the clear category leaders, while another potential player (H-P) exited the category abruptly. Perhaps RIM will stay in the tablet category for awhile, having its greatest appeal in Blackberry enterprise accounts, but its overall share will remain very small – maybe small enough for RIM to fold its hand. If so, that would leave two, right?
Not so fast. First, Apple is defending its leadership position not only through innovation but also through litigation. Samsung was barred from selling its Android-based Galaxy Tab model in Europe and Australia, although it won at least a temporary reprieve soon afterward. And according to some analysis posted by Daring Fireball, the number of Android-based tablets actually in use is much lower than its market share estimates. In other words, they are selling in to the reseller channel; they’re just not selling through to consumers.
Then, there’s Microsoft. According to Strategy Analytics, Microsoft holds the number three spot in the tablet category, at 4.6%. For Microsoft, tablets have always been seen as another distribution channel for the Windows franchise. Microsoft has already demostrated Windows 8 on tablets.
In fact, Microsoft may actually (finally) fill a gap that needs to be filled in the tablet category. One of the frustrations of the iPad is that it does not have the full Mac experience. Unless an iPad user accesses a Mac via a virtual machine, he or she does not have access to most of the tools that are fundamental to the Mac, such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc. So, the iPad is not a Mac substitute. Google does have virtualization to Google Docs, so in that respect, Google offers a better solution than Apple does, for Mac users. But for Google Docs, you need to be online. Therefore, neither Apple nor Google provide a satisfying solution. (Yes, I know – the iPad is a ‘lean-back’ device, and was not envisioned as a computer replacement. It makes a fine TV sceen via the Slingbox or via ‘TV Everywhere.’ Bla bla bla – call me old-school.).
Because Microsoft offers a full Windows experience on computers that are built in a tablet form-factor, there is less compromise. Funny, because Microsoft has been trying to succeed in the tablet category for upwards of 20 years, and finally it seems to have a formula.
(Apple, are you listening? How about a MacBook Air that’s built in a tablet form factor, with keyboard attachable via USB, Thunderbolt or Bluetooth? I – and I’d bet many others – would buy one, since Windows ‘insists’ on being more and more difficult to use with every subsequent release.)
Lately, I’ve been seeing more discussion about distributing Apps to various devices. For example, an article in Connected Planet entitled “Do Web App Stores Matter In The Age Of Mobile Apps?” (the title reminds me of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” which I’m surprised Google or Motorola haven’t tried to borrow yet).
There are lots of pieces to this discussion. There’s the apps- and content-centric discussion: how can the same apps be cross-purposed and used in multiple consumer devices. There’s an operator-centric discussion: how can apps and content be commonly managed and distributed in a more efficient way? There’s a network/planning-centric discussion: How can a service provider do a better (faster, less expensive) job of app and content distribution than a data-center-based CDN can?
I think the Web makes a good common denominator as an interface that consumers can use to acquire and manage apps and content within a multi-play service environment. Mobile smartphones, TV set-tops, PCs and game consoles can all access and display the Web, and there’s less of a need to develop a separate app for every blessed mobile and portable and PC and set-top platform. Develop once, and time-to-market improves. Good argument for Android as well, come to think of it (except for, come to think of it again, the game console and PC parts, since Android doesn’t run there).
A Web-based common interface benefits the service provider too: a Web based store as a common single point of purchase, and a common platform that could associate purchases with devices and entitlements and make sure that the right content and apps go to the right entitled devicees.
As a consumer, if I were subscribed to ABC Service Provider’s TV, mobile smartphone and ISP services, I could sign up for their TV Remote DVR feature using the consumer-facing online storefront. Upon registration or purchase, the associated apps could be pushed to my set-top, to my PC and to my mobile phone, so I could use any of those devices to set up recordings that I can watch when I get home. Or, if the content is hosted in the network cloud, to watch whenever and wherever I want. As a consumer, one point of contact and automated distribution add up to convenience.
As a service provider, it’s a way to leverage common resources to save OpEx and maybe even CapEx. This is going to be a very active discussion. This is part of the future that we’ve used so many awkward acronyms and terms to try and describe. One of my favorites is ICE (Information Communications and Entertainment), which says everything, yet nothing. It’s really well-intentioned and after you think about it for a minute, it’s a good acronym. But would your Uncle Don know what it is?
I’ll be writing more about this over time.
Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings, is familiar to most of us. In one memorable scene, Frodo freely offers the Ring to the Lady Galadriel, and she tests Frodo’s dedication to his mission. It occurred to me that Microsoft’s role in the rising battle of mobile device ecosystems resembles Galadriel’s confrontation with Frodo.
“In place of the Dark Lord,” she proclaims, “you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night. Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain … All shall love me and despair!”
Sure sounds like Microsoft in the PC era. But now the equation is different. It is sad to hear Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer respond to cries for a competitor to the iPad and the Android and Apple app ecosystems by promising that Microsoft will have “slates” sometime soon, and that Microsoft is “all in.”
Mr Ballmer simply can’t see that Microsoft’s era has passed. Yes, Microsoft, like IBM before it, will remain a powerful force that dominates many markets – even interactive TV – but now the battle royal is between Apple and Google.
I suppose that under closer scrutiny, the comparison breaks down – who could imagine Microsoft as an Elven Queen? Yes, I suppose you can say that The Ring equates to market leadership that Microsoft once had in the PC era. But, as in the outcome of Frodo and Galadriel’s confrontation, Google, Apple and RIM are not about to cede it freely to Microsoft.
Maybe Microsoft’s situation in the post-Windows era is more like the passage of Frodo’s Fellowship through the Mines of Moria, but I won’t introduce another metaphor here. “And they call it a mine. A mine!”
It remains to be seen whether, like Galadriel before it, Microsoft passes the test. But it looks like Microsoft, like Galadriel, “will diminish, and go into the West,” and remain Microsoft.
(with apologies to JRR Tolkien and all holders of his intellectual property and its licensees)