There's another mobile platform in the smartphone market. On Monday, Samsung unveiled the Samsung Z, the first smartphone that uses the open-source Tizen operating system.
The device will be on shown at the Tizen Developer Conference taking place this week in San Francisco. It features a 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, built-in fingerprint sensor and a 2.3 GHz quad-core processor. The company said it provides faster start-up time, multi-tasking, smoother scrolling and improved rendering for Web browsing, compared with similar devices on other platforms.
It will be released initially only in Russia, but the South Korean company said it was planning for a rollout to other markets. A Tizen Store will launch along with the Z, with an expected inventory of several thousand apps. The company is attempting to jump-start third-party app development with a special one-year program of support for developers plus local app challenges in Russia.
Additionally, the platform is expected to eventually support OpenMobile's ACL technology, which allows Android apps to run on the device -- and thus give it access to the huge inventory of mobile apps in Google's Play marketplace.
In addition to the Z, the newest Samsung smart watch -- the Galaxy Gear 2 -- runs Tizen, and the company will begin offering the lightweight and standards-based Tizen as an option for owners of the first Galaxy Gear. One reason for Tizen, according to Samsung, is that the battery life is longer in comparison with an Android version.
Some observers are suggesting that Samsung's Tizen strategy is not so much to undertake a direct competition to Android, as it is to release a mobile platform for all those other, non-smartphone or non-tablet mobile devices out there and coming.
Ross Rubin, principal analyst for industry research firm Reticle Research, told us that the Tizen release "represents an interesting contrast" to the approach taken by other manufacturers, such as Microsoft-owned Nokia's release of some Android devices at the same time it's "trying to build support for Windows Phone."
Rubin said Tizen could allow Samsung to make devices that are cheaper and whose battery lasts longer than comparable Android devices. A big issue with new platforms, Rubin pointed out, is always the number and quality of apps, and he expressed a wait-and-see approach about how well Android apps will run on the Z via OpenMobile.
But Rubin also noted that there's another factor besides apps that lends value to mobile platforms: services. Google, of course, has a raft of services it offers with Android. "Nokia has created their own browser, swapped in e-mail and Skype," he said, "and has its own maps service," plus Microsoft has other services to offer as well.
Rubin said that Amazon has had some success in offering its own services on its Android-variant devices without using Google's services, but Amazon has a huge inventory of content, products and services to draw upon. One key question, then, is whether Samsung can provide competing services of comparable quality, even if the Android apps work flawlessly.