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.
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).
At CES 2013, Verizon Communications showed off a variety of updates for its FiOS TV service, as well as a demonstration of the forthcoming Redbox Instant service from the Verizon-Coinstar joint venture. Read this article on Telecompetitor…
This is a continuation of a blog entry that I made in early February, concerning my experiences with a Samsung mobile smartphone and my carrier, T-Mobile.
About a week after sending my phone to Samsung for the software ‘re-flash,’ an email showed up saying that Samsung couldn’t do it because it had a hardware issue. The cost of repair was revised from zero (which I had received in writing), to $70. I called them to confirm – were they really changing the terms of their deal? – yes (although, the service rep was very polite about it). I knew this phone should under hardware warranty, since it was less than a year old, so I told Samsung that I’d be back with proof. They said they would do the repair if I could prove it.
So I went back to the T-Mobile retail store to request a printed record but they had no access to my repair history, although they politely offered to allow me to pay my bill… If I had any hopes that I would receive customer service in a T-Mobile retail store, these hopes were now officially dashed: these stores are only for sales and payments, not post-sale customer service.
Back home, and back on the phone to T-Mobile phone support, which confirmed that the unit I had was, in fact, less than a year old. But they could not warrantee it because the unit that it replaced was more than a year old. You’ve got to be kidding me. A silence, and then the T-Mobile rep said: “But wait, you have insurance on this phone! You can replace it under your insurance plan!” Why was I not informed of this three weeks and 8 hours of effort ago? Because the phone was being used under my phone number, and not the phone number for which it was originally activated (even though both numbers are on the same family plan).
As soon as I told them that the phone was originally activated under another number on my family plan, the insurance suddenly applied and I was allowed to choose one of four different phones. I asked Samsung to return the Vibrant to me, which they did. T-Mobile sent a replacement phone – a Samsung Exhibit II (Samsung model number SGH-T679) – which was similar but not identical to the Vibrant model. It works, and I’m getting used to it.
How does this story end? First, I was impressed by the complete lack of customer service that I received from T-Mobile – one of the worst customer experiences that I have ever had. This lack of concern for customer loyalty, and the incredible inefficiency of this process truly lowered the bar. And why does T-Mobile treat customers as potential criminals? Every time I call them, they ask me to enter my phone number and the last four digits of the primary account-holder’s social security number. Then again, verbally, once an agent answers. And why does T-Mobile disable the over-the-air update feature for smartphones and force the use of a USB cable, especially when the update software tells you that you can only update the phone over the air? I don’t get it.
Second, I’ll revise my grades to both Samsung and to T-Mobile. For T-Mobile’s utter ineptitude and lack of customer concern (and I won’t even get into the absence of retail staff training), I give them an F+. The ‘+’ comes only because they finally addressed the repair on my phone by replacing it. I give Samsung a D-. Good manners don’t count when companies retract promises made. This error was not a matter of $70 revenue for a service case. It was a matter of customer loyalty and retention. I also own two Samsung TV sets but my next one? Not so sure.
Truly, I hope that Samsung does a better job with their connected TVs than they do for their mobile phones, since the task of support for an app-enabled connected TV is probably more involved than it is for a phone, not to mention that is a lot more difficult to return a TV to the manufacturer for repair.
Third, it reaffirms my loyalty as an Apple customer. If this Samsung phone breaks, I will most definitely buy an unsubsidized iPhone. Even if the Samsung can be repaired under warranty or insurance, I will sell it on eBay as soon as it comes back from reapir. Say what you will about Apple and their spoiled-rotten ‘fanboy’ customers, but Apple is a market leader for a reason. I don’t have the time or the inclination for anything less than a superior customer experience. That’s right up there with usability, and Apple wins on both.
Today I had planned to go through some editing on some work I was doing for a client, but my “new” smartphone has sucked up most of my day.
My son has a nice Samsung Galaxy S “Vibrant” SGH-T959 that was replaced last year under warranty. The first replacement unit was lost, so T-Mobile sent a second one, which went to my son. Because the first one never turned up, I ended up paying $400 to T-Mobile for it – lost or not, they didn’t have it. Now I do.
Even though I am the ultimate late adopter – this is my first smartphone – I was excited to finally make the transition. Still brand new, but because it was a replacement, it was minus the back cover, charger and battery. So I went on eBay and got the missing accessories, got my old Nokia 5310 “dumb phone” deactivated, transferred my SIM and MicroSD cards, and activated this Samsung in its place; relegating the Nokia to briefcase accessory status, for when I travel internationally and want to use a phone with a local SIM card.
Now I’ve been living with the Samsung for a week and I like it (although – call me old-school – I do like to press a button to answer the phone, and not have to fumble with swiping my finger across the screen). So the other day, I found and paid $5 for an app that syncs this Android-based phone with iTunes on my Mac, which is appealing because it would eliminate the need for me to carry both my iPod Touch and the phone, which (superior iPhone usability aside) are functionally redundant except that one doesn’t contain a phone.
Because the ‘lost’ Samsung was about a year old, it had Android v2.1 installed. But the app I bought only ran on Android 2.2 (of course, I didn’t think to look at the small print: the system requirements listed by the developer in the Android Market). So for the past 2 days, I have been trying to update this phone to Android 2.2. T-Mobile has no in-store technical support (in reality, if there’s any, it’s informal – if the employees happen to be up to speed, they often do try), so I went home dejectedly and went through three tiers of T-Mobile phone support. Even T-Mobile’s Level Three technician couldn’t figure it out.
So I went directly to Samsung, and I found them to be extremely helpful and very polite. I also had the impression that they were very well organized and trained. As it turns out, T-Mobile required Samsung to disable the “over the air” software update function for this phone, and instead, requires that the update be done by downloading an installer called “Kies Mini,” and doing it via a USB cable.
First, I installed Kies Mini on my Mac, but it couldn’t see the phone. Then, the PC version, which also required drivers, driver updates and two Windows re-boots in order to function – and it couldn’t see the phone either (neither on the Windows 7 virtual machine running on my Mac, nor on my wife’s Windows 7 computer). In both cases, the phone saw the computer just fine.
I decided on my own that the problem was the cable, so I went back to the T-Mobile store on bended knees with outstretched palms, and they gave me a new cable. Still nothing. In desparation, I decided to turn off all other network connections on the phone, by invoking “airplane mode.” Eureka!!!
But not so fast: Kies Mini then put up an error message that said the phone didn’t have the right software version installed, and that the phone could not be updated via the cable, and needed to be updated “over the air” (Wait a minute – this was the entire and only purpose for this software in the first place, to do the update via the cable). Perfect!
So I called Samsung Tech Support back, gave them the case number that they gave me yesterday, and within 5 minutes, we had a solution. They gave me an RMA number, so I could return the phone for a full ‘re-flash’ of all of the phone’s software at no charge. Not only that, but it will be … not Android 2.1… not Android 2.2… but Android 2.3 !!! But I’ll have to be without my phone for a week, so I’ll reactivate my Nokia and stand by.
Then I’ll see if I can get that iTunes Android app I bought to work…
So, let me review. I’ve put at least 6 hours into this, between T-Mobile phone support, two trips to the T-Mobile store and two support calls to Samsung; not to mention the hour I just spent ventilating about this experience on my blog. I give T-Mobile a grade of D-, but not an F, only because they gave me a cable on my second visit. I give Samsung support an A for good intentions and effort, but a C for the information they made available to their support staff, which was incomplete. I give Samsung product development a C- (they make a nice phone, but the Kies Mini experience was very Alice-in-Wonderland).
If this was an iPhone, first of all, this would have worked because there is only one build for the OS at any given time; and not many, as is the case for Android). Second of all, it would have taken maybe 10 minutes from start to finish. If I’d known that I’d have this (hate to say it…) Windows-like experience with my new phone, I’d have put it on eBay and bought an iPhone (although I’d have to buy it unlocked direct from Apple, unsubsidized, because T-Mobile does not carry the iPhone in the U.S. and T-Mobile’s network accommodates it just fine.
Now I know what the analysts mean when they say that “the Android experience is very fragmented.” Everyone’s experience differs. Your mileage may vary.
[ Feb 6 - Note: I had also contacted the developer of the app that got me started on this Android update escapade in the first place. To their extreme credit, their product manager responded with concern. I hope that this all has a happy ending because app developers tend not to take the trouble to do this. ]