Is the Samsung Z smartphone just delayed -- or doomed?

Samsung says it's waiting to enhance the Tizen ecosystem

The launch of the Samsung Z, the first smartphone to run the Tizen OS for commercial use, will be delayed, with no release date given by Samsung.

The reason for the delay isn't entirely clear. Two analysts suggested that the smartphone could well be doomed.

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The company, in a short statement to IDGNS and others on Monday, said only that more time is needed to "enhance the Tizen ecosystem" before releasing the smartphone. That's a reference to Samsung's desire to beef up the number of apps running on the OS.

In June, Samsung said the device, which features a 4.8-inch HD display device and a 2.3GHz quad-core application processor, would run the open source Tizen 2.2.1. It was pegged for release in the third quarter in Russia, with plans to expand to other markets.

Reports citing unnamed sources said that the Samsung Z won't be available until sometime next year, but Samsung didn't comment. The Tizen Association also did not comment on the delay or on any future plans for it.

The device was put on display at the Tizen Developer Conference in San Francisco on June 3, but then pulled from its launch on July 11 at an event in Moscow that drew 150 Tizen developers. According to TechRadar, a Samsung official at the Moscow event told Tizen app developers they could get a priority advantage in a "half-empty [Tizen] store" for a "decent premium device."

Indeed, the Samsung Z, as first introduced, has good hardware, with a built-in fingerprint sensor and an ultra-power saving mode along with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and a MicroSD slot to support up to 64GB of additional storage.

But quality smartphone hardware won't make up for what has been a disappointing Tizen OS. The Z was first supposed to debut at Mobile World Congress in late February but did not.

At that event, two Tizen-based smartwatches, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, were introduced and then launched in April. But there are fewer than 50 apps, which primarily run on an Android-based Samsung phone like the Galaxy S5. After the release of the Tizen-based smartwatches, Samsung released an Android Wear OS smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

Samsung's foray into Tizen has long been considered Samsung's primary effort to separate itself from Google and the Android ecosystem, which limits what Samsung can do to customize its phones to get the full financial benefit from apps.

Google and Samsung are publicly cordial about their relationship, even though analysts report there is great tension privately over Android. At Google I/O on June 25, Google announced that the next Android version, dubbed '"L,"will launch in the fall with enterprise-focused management and security features. Samsung had been focusing on similar software for two years under the Samsung Knox name.

Google publicly thanked Samsung for its contribution of Knox software to all of Android. "We really want to thank Samsung for [carrying over] Knox to all of Android," Google executive Sundar Pichai said in a keynote address. "There will be one consistent experience."

The delay of the Samsung Z smartphone occurred sometime between the June 3 debut and the July 11 event in Moscow. The Google announcement about Knox took place during that five-week stretch.

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel, said that Samsung and Google actually penned a patent agreement over Google's use of Knox software. "That deal was actually a surprise, as it indicated the two companies were getting closer," she said.

Samsung then announced the Russia launch of the Samsung Z smartphone, delayed that launch and then today said the move was related to the Tizen ecosystem.

"It seems strange that Samsung is surprised" about a lack of Tizen apps, Milanesi said. "This is not the first time the Tizen phone was delayed, and the lack of apps should not come as a surprise, given that developers usually follow the 'build it and they will come' mantra. You need sales to get developers!"

Milanesi said the Samsung Z's delay is due to a combination of factors, not just a shortage of apps. Many of Samsung's moves with announcing or delaying the Z smartphone come from a deep-seated concern with how Samsung views its relationship with Android, and therefore, Google.

"Samsung is still not sure they want to risk what they have on Android," Milanesi said. "Samsung also recognizes their need to stand on their own two feet with Tizen, so to speak, but they also know that consumers want Android."

Currently, Samsung makes the most Android phones on the market, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and others, and is the biggest producer of smartphones globally, with about a 33% market share. Samsung creates a variant of pure Android with its devices, and also has its own proprietary browser and supports a number of Samsung-only apps for fitness and other purposes. Google objects to this approach, privately, and has very publicly promoted pure Android phones like the Nexus line.

In addition to Samsung's recognition of the value of Android, wireless carriers are "not entirely sure that Tizen will sell over Android since the ecosystem is not ready," Milanesi added.

"Samsung is in a tough spot as they want to own more of their ecosystem, but continuing to fork Android is not necessarily less risky than Tizen or less demanding from an investment perspective," she said. "Samsung's differentiating on Android is becoming more difficult as proven by the integration of enterprise features that Knox had as a differentiator" from pure Android. "But going with something that consumers do not know, even it looks a lot like Android, is still a risk. "

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, called Samsung's efforts with Tizen "a very risky venture [since] it has little traction and really no compelling user reason to switch to it." The Samsung Z delay is designed to give the smartphone its best show at gaining traction in the market, he said.

"Samsung knows they will get one shot at launching it, and if it stumbles at the gate, there is little chance it would ever be a success," Moorhead added. "Therefore, Samsung is waiting for everything to be in alignment."

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the Samsung Z's delay could well spell its doom. "Samsung estimated incorrectly that Russia, as a green field environment, would be more open to a new ecosystem -- Tizen -- that had many fewer apps," he said. "The window for offering a new ecosystem in Russia is probably now closed and it is likely that the Z smartphone will never emerge. And if it does, it will likely not be very successful."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com. See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com. Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

This story, "Is the Samsung Z smartphone just delayed -- or doomed?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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