Latest Mobile Linux Might Be History Repeating Itself
The mobile industry has been rocked by one enormous announcement after another in the last few weeks. However, the seismic reaction to the announcement of Project Tizen was caused more by a synchronised shake of the head and roll of the eyes than gasps of astonishment and frantic analysis of the implications.
We've been here before, and many, many times. We've seen several consortia set up to promote open-source Linux-based platforms for mobile devices. They've all touted the concept that such platforms benefit from open governance and the separation of vested content and service interests. The idea's a lovely one, but unfortunately it's those vested content and service interests that are critical to the success of any platform.
To coin the mobile buzzword of 2011, you need an "ecosystem". Without one, your brilliant platform has slim chances of success. HP learnt that in a record-breaking 13 months. Nokia's another example. It talked a good story while promoting the advantages of "open", but Apple was offering 70 percent revenue share. Four years later, Apple overtook Nokia to become the leading smartphone manufacturer by value, volume and almost every other metric.
However, just because history doesn't look favourably on Tizen's chances, the past shouldn't be the only measure of its prospects. Indeed, Android may currently have a 50 percent share of the smartphone market, but the economics for manufacturers are getting tougher. Three major players make money from Android: HTC, Microsoft and Samsung. Is that sustainable? It's questionable, in my view. Are Android licensees assessing alternatives? Definitely, but at the moment Windows Phone is really the only option. So perhaps there's room for another platform.
But alas, Tizen hasn't been conceived in response to a market opportunity. It's a product of necessity for all involved.
The LiMo Foundation has failed to deliver credible products and will wither away unless it combines forces. Even so, I question its involvement in Tizen, given that the project will be hosted by the Linux Foundation.
Intel has been marginalised by Nokia's decision to withdraw from MeeGo. MeeGo could have continued to gain niche support in embedded systems, but it wasn't going to succeed in handsets or tablets. More importantly, Intel desperately needs to find a way to reassert itself in mobile and it's backing multiple horses.
Samsung is very uncomfortable with its reliance on Android (and so it should be). It's arguably the only manufacturer with the software engineering resources to support multiple platforms. Tizen is Samsung doing what it does best — hedging its bets. Samsung can comfortably devote engineers to the project, but my bet is it's entirely tactical. A central role in the steering group does not mean Samsung is "fully committed". LiMo demonstrated that.
Project Tizen is a ménage à trois of convenience. It may have some substantial names behind it, but I suspect there 's considerable doubt within Intel and Samsung that Tizen's the answer. The project is a best bet, borne out of desperation. And desperation's rarely an ingredient for success.