Tizen has been described as everything from “a troubled child” to “dead in the water”, but analysts still believe it has the best chance of the four major open source mobile operating systems to make an impact on the global smartphone market.
It is an opinion that Brian Warner, who oversees the Tizen project for the Linux Foundation, would agree with as he believes the operating system is capable “of scratching an itch” that is unaddressed by other leading non-Android open source platforms – Firefox OS, Sailfish and Ubuntu Mobile.
Speaking to TechWeekEurope, he says the main advantages of Tizen is that it is truly open source and manufacturers can make alterations to the interface without affecting compliance and compatibility standards – unlike Android.
“It’s built to be specialised by whoever wants to go and build a project. Samsung is developing their Tizen products by taking the code from the Tizen project and building their interface on top of it and adding enhancements.”
Of course, manufacturers are able to make alterations to Android, and the operating system is free for operators, but it is a myth that it is open source. The version of Android that Google shares with its handset partners and the version maintained by the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) are two separate platforms.
The open source version cannot include various proprietary extensions, so it won’t boot up easily on actual phones. Meanwhile the official Android version comes with Google deeply integrated into the platform (though outside the kernel, of course, which is Linux, and subject to a GPL licence).
Warner believes Tizen is a continuation of a trend that started with iOS, which made people care about what operating system and applications they were running, and furthered by Android, which allowed non-Apple developers and manufacturers could make money from this trend. However Android, he claims, was just too fragmented as there were too many devices to test for, making life difficult for developers.
“That was when Google essentially said they had to build a compliance programme around this to get everyone back to a unified Android experience,” he says. “Consumers don’t see it as a knock-off, they see it as a first rate operating system. It’s worked very well for Android.”
But the cost of this standardisation sets a limit on manufacturers’ freedom in interface design and their ability to extend the software.
Intel and Samsung have been the most active supporters of the project, but the Tizen Association can count on backing from the likes of Huawei, NEC, Orange, Panasonic, Telefonica and Vodafone.
Analysts have cited this strong support base, along with expected demand for the platform in Asia, as reasons why it has the best chance of succeeding, but critics have argued that Samsung is too dominant.
Warner admits that Samsung and Intel have had the most influence over the project so far because they have committed the most engineers, but says ultimately the development community that will determine Tizen’s direction and that the Linux Foundation’s role was to ensure it remains open and available to all.
“Our focus is on the code of the project itself,” he says. “We are the neutral table where participants sit.” He is keen to point out the difference between the Foundation and the Tizen Association, which is essentially a marketing brand, and stresses that Tizen will be governed using the same model as Linux itself.
These include a deadline extension for the Tizen App challenge, which invites developers to submit new or ported native, hybrid or HTML5 applications in the hope of winning a slice of $4.04 million. The challenge hopes to boost the Tizen app ecosystem, and developers now have until 8 December to apply.
“The reason [why we’ve extended the deadline] is because we’ve had a lot of people who have asked for more time to get certified in the Tizen store and also really recently, we’ve got a lot of the game engines and third-party middlewares certified for Tizen,” he says. “We’ve got a broad range of different ways to develop for the Tizen app challenge and we want to make sure that we are providing a good opportunity for everyone here.”
It’s the emergence of these third party app engines that has Warner convinced that an open source alternative will prove successful now, rather than two years ago when MeeGo was abandoned by Intel and Nokia.
“The book is not closed on the story of the mobile ecosystem,” he says. “Tizen and Android fit their own markets and their own use cases and I think there’s room for co-existence.”
Tizen is not alone in recognising this gap. It has three other rivals positioning themselves as open source options, but is Warner interested in them?
“If it’s Linux, we believe there’s a niche for it and we want it to succeed,” he responds, saying the presence of these competing platforms goes back to “if there’s an itch, and if it’s your itch – scratch it.”
“In all of these cases, they have a reason for doing what they do and they believe in it and so I’m not going to knock them for that,” he adds. “, I’m following them with interest. There’s some interesting stuff being done.”
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