Tag Archives: tizen

Facebook is first brand into the mobile skin game

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Sometimes innovation only needs to be skin deep.

Facebook Home is a new kind of threat to Android and a new kind of opportunity for mobile entrepreneurs. It’s middleware that’s downloaded onto select – for now – smartphones and acts as the top skin of the user interface. Instead, for example, of seeing the standard lock screen, users see their Facebook feed, constantly updated.

Android apps are still there, if you dig down. But if you just go with the flow all you see is what Facebook pushes to you. Which doesn’t necessarily have to be your feed. It could be any digital service or app that Facebook – or you, presumably – wants to inject.

Facebook Home might push Google’s suite of apps and services to the back of the smartphone bus. Long term, though, it could make Android itself unnecessary.

A raft of alternative mobile phone operating systems has floated onto the market this year. Tizen, Firefox and Ubuntu are the chase group. There’s no high level technical reason Facebook Home couldn’t overlay those operating systems too, making the underlying OS irrelevant to end users.

To be fair, web browsers offer a contrary example. Twenty years ago the hope was Java applications would run inside browsers, rendering Microsoft and others irrelevant. Didn’t happen, but it did add a subtle seasoning of fear to the competitive stew.

Facebook is walking point on smartphone middleware, but there’s no particular reason it has a lock on the market. The Facebook brand is a friendly, mass market way to introduce the idea. Once consumers are over that conceptual hurdle – I don’t think it’ll take long – there’s no barrier to carriers, other social networks or, indeed, pretty much any other brand doing the same thing. (I’m assuming Facebook can’t patent the fundamental idea of skinning a mobile OS, but that might be a tall assumption in our litigious world.)

HTML5 was supposed to be the grand unifier of the smartphone OS universe, and it still could be. Branded middleware can do it today.

Mobile OS buzz for some, deafening silence for others

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , ,

Firefox hasn’t quite landed yet.

Firefox has sharpened the debate over prospects for HTML5. The open source, connectivity-centric mobile operating system developed by the Mozilla Foundation gained a lot of attention at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sceptical attention, mostly.

When the OS landscape is so thoroughly dominated by two superpowers – Apple and Google – it’s risky to bet on a challenger. Several mobile carriers expressed support, but manufacturers lagged behind. Geeksphone, a small Spanish company, had demo units to show at Barcelona, but missed its February ship date for SDKs. Nice words from LG and Sony amounted to taking out an option.

It’s a lightweight operating system that, like Google Chrome, is little more than a browser and depends on a live Internet connection for most of its functionality. The power is supposed to come from HTML5-based web services. The idea is to write an OS-agnostic app once in HTML5 and serve it to high end browsers running on any kind of mobile phone. So far though, practice has lagged behind promise. Firefox barely rose above novelty status last week.

Samsung was more forthcoming about its plans for Tizen, a Linux-derived open source OS. As predicted, it’ll replace the in-house Bada OS on future lower end smartphones. Ubuntu was on hand promoting its one OS to rule them all concept, essentially a repeat of its pitch at CES earlier this year.

Blackberry and Windows didn’t get much love at all, though. Microsoft put marketing money into the event but, viewed from outside anyway, didn’t rise above the background noise. Despite its loud and awkward relaunch in January, Blackberry was all but ignored.

It’ll be a while before we know if any of these alternatives have genuine traction. Significant consumer market product launches aren’t expected until the fall, which allows plenty of time for manufacturers and carriers to reverse course or accelerate ahead. For now, it’s still an Android and iOS world.

Tizen ready to replace Samsung’s Bada OS

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Doesn’t take long to browse the Bada store.

Bada is Samsung’s in-house operating system for low cost smartphones, but its days might be numbered. Tizen 2.0 has been released to developers, with a consumer version likely to be available on phones in the fall.

This Linux-based, open source operating system is also backed by Samsung, along with other major technology players. And that’s the key difference. The burden is distributed across many companies and individual developers who, for one reason or another, invest their time in developing Tizen source code and writing apps to run on it.

Samsung employees at CES in Las Vegas last month were openly speculating that Bada would be phased out in favor of Tizen. Two big benefits: Tizen holds the promise of a much bigger ecosystem of apps and services, and it could scale up to become a viable competitor – technically and in the market place – to Android.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Bada. I’ve been using it for about six months. My Wave Y phone can handle basics like making calls, surfing the web on the built in Dolphin browser and reading email. But there’s not much variety in the Bada section of Samsung’s app store. It’s also geographically restricted. Samsung doesn’t officially sell Bada handsets in the U.S., although unlocked grey market phones can be found at mainstream retailers like Walmart, which is where I bought mine.

Low cost phones are grabbing the early headlines from Barcelona as Mobile World Congress opens. Open source OSes are a natural match. Swapping Bada for Tizen is the right move for Samsung.