Has time finally run out for Tizen?

Let’s face it; what’s the point of Tizen? It’s the mobile operating system that everybody likes but that nobody really wants. Here we are in 2014, just days away from Mobile World Congress, and still no closer to seeing an actual Tizen smartphone launch.

Last week’s news that 15 new partners have joined the Tizen Association looks like one final, desperate push to convince the mobile world that Tizen has a future. It didn’t convince Telefonica though, who, along with Sprint, quietly pulled out of the Tizen programme in earlier this month. According to the Wall Street Journal, NTT Docomo and Orange have also scrapped their plans to support Tizen in the near future.

Does Samsung – the driving force behind the OS – really need Tizen? It’s doing pretty well at the moment with just Android, thank you very much. But perhaps it still thinks it needs bargaining power against Google, and an insurance policy in case its reliance on Android backfires? Did the threat of Tizen persuade Google to sell Motorola Mobility, and was part of the deal that Samsung then quietly drops its plans for an alternative OS? Until an insider spills the beans, we’ll never know for sure.

If Windows is still struggling to become a mainstream mobile OS (and I’m very sorry Windows fans, but it is – the user growth adoption rate and wide developer support is just not there), and with BlackBerry stuck in reverse gear, then what chance Tizen? You could also argue what chance Firefox, Sailfish or Ubuntu – but these are very different beasts from very different backgrounds.

Amongst the new members to the Tizen Association’s ‘Partner Program’ are ZTE, Softbank Mobile and Chinese search giant Baidu. But ZTE currently backs everything that moves, and even has a Firefox OS mobile on the market with new models being introduced next week, and Softbank Mobile already had an interest via Sprint, which it acquired last year.

“The convergence of knowledge will make Tizen a catalyst for providing more innovation not just in smart phones,” said Ryoichi Sugimura, a Tizen Association Board Member from NTT DoCoMo. “Every vendor and operator will have the ability to provide a huge variety of customizable services to their customer.”

So perhaps it’s time to stop asking “When are we going to see a Tizen Smartphone?” (because the answer looks increasingly like being “never”) and instead ask “What sort of catalyst?”. Is Tizen’s role now a stepping stone to wider cross-sector collaboration?

Before we say goodbye though, here’s a quick potted history of Tizen:

Tizen is a successor to the Samsung Linux Platform, which was developed as part of the LiMo operator consortium. It’s also partly a successor to Nokia’s Meego OS – which collapsed when Nokia decided to focus on Microsoft’s Windows Phone, much to the annoyance of Intel (although only a handful of Meego features have been retained in Tizen). Meego itself was an amalgamation of Moblin and Maemo, created in February 2010 out of a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin Linux-based mobile platforms.

In May 2012, version 1.0 of the Tizen operating was released, called Larkspur. A month later, Samsung stumped up £0.5m to join the Linux Foundation (alongside the likes of Intel, Oracle and Qualcomm), which is where the open-source Tizen project is ‘housed’. The Tizen Association was set up to guide its adoption within the wider ICT industry, and includes Telefonica, Vodafone, Sprint, Orange and NTT DoCoMo. Or at least it did.

In a week’s time, perhaps we will have some definitive answers as to the future of Tizen. Hopefully we won’t leave the Mobile World Congress with yet more unanswered questions…

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