Does Samsung want to be Google or Apple? Maybe both

Hints have emerged around Samsung's prospective plan to move beyond Android and create a new Tizen mobile ecosystem

If anyone in the world has a chance of taking on Apple in the smartphone market, it's Samsung. And it's offered strong hints of striving to be more like Apple in the past.

If that's the case, why would Samsung -- which currently commands some 63 percent of the worldwide market share for Android smartphones, and half of all smartphones, period -- want to turn its back on Android and start from scratch with an entirely new platform?

Puzzling as it may sound, that's what Samsung appears to be planning via a line of smartphones that run Tizen, a Linux-based OS codeveloped with Intel and under the stewardship of the Linux Foundation. The ultimate reason may be because it doesn't want to be like Apple -- but rather a mixture of Apple and Google.

A platform of one's own

When word first surfaced that Samsung was considering leaving Android behind, speculation flew in all directions. Was it because Samsung sensed that Android is facing rough times ahead and wants to formulate an exit plan sooner rather than later?

But hints of another strategy emerged from the third Tizen developer's conference (the first one held in Asia) earlier this week.

Samsung is worried, and rightfully so, that Android -- no matter whose hardware it runs on -- will eventually evolve into a monetizing front end for Google's services, leaving Samsung stuck in the low-profit hardware end of the market. In that light, a Samsung-controlled software ecosystem could work as a front end for its own services, whatever those turn out to be.

Given Samsung's deep roots in creating software-powered consumer electronics such as TVs and kitchen appliances, it may well try to create an ecosystem that's more about ganging together consumer electronics also powered by Tizen, rather than simply trying to ape any one thing offered by Apple or Google. Indications of this have surfaced before in its Android-powered products, like the Galaxy Tab models introduced last year that sported media services.

If done right, it could be Samsung's Internet of things play, where all of Samsung's Tizen-powered devices could be made aware of and controlled through each other.

It's a bold idea, but it'll be tough to pull off for several reasons.

Tizen's long and winding road

The first issue is Tizen itself. Samsung announced early in the year that it would be releasing Tizen-based phones, but we're still waiting -- hinting at how far the OS still has to go before it's ready for prime time.

A few phones running Tizen have been spotted in the wild in demos, with hands-on reports indicating the OS is reminiscent of Android in its 2.x days. But Samsung hasn't announced actual release dates and might well decide Tizen is best aimed at lower-end phones, in much the same manner as Firefox OS.

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