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.