Tizen's hybrid roots may be part of why it's been such a long time coming together. The OS isn't exclusively Samsung's baby. Samsung and Intel -- and many other parties over time -- have pooled the pieces of previous projects into Tizen. In Samsung's case, its internally developed Bada mobile OS was originally slated to run lower-end smartphones and smart TVs. Intel's donation was MeeGo, itself constituted from Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin. It's worth noting that all those projects were positioned at one time or another as Android alternatives.
That leads into the second issue: the partnerships needed by Samsung to make this happen on the broadest possible scale. Some companies are on board -- Toyota, for instance, is working with Samsung and Intel to add Tizen as an OS for its cars.
But there hasn't yet been the kind of momentum Google saw with Android. If Samsung wants Tizen to be the center of something that spans many different kinds of consumer-electronics experiences, a lot more action needs to take place around it.
It's also possible that Tizen isn't Samsung's big escape hatch at all -- that it's simply an exploration of one possible avenue it could follow and use in the event its current success sours. Such a turnabout is unlikely, but given Samsung's rough history with Apple -- which is more than willing to shut down Samsung's Android business if it can find legal standing to do so -- it might be wise for Samsung to keep options open.
The slippery slope toward Sony
The third issue is Samsung itself. A company that big and that deeply entrenched in a specific space -- consumer electronics -- can't reinvent itself overnight as a software-and-services outfit.
What's more, the company's track record with software is spotty. On the one hand, it's implemented clever and thoughtful additions to Android, like a suite of stylus-based software (the S Pen) that's actually useful. But its Knox containerization technology for smartphones -- a relevant item, in theory -- comes with too many strings attached to be practical.
Small wonder Samsung plans to buy the tech it needs from outside, if it must. But buying technology and talent won't work if Samsung's internal business culture isn't capable of delivering Google-like consistency or Apple-like levels of product integration.
It's wrong to rule out Samsung completely. This is the company that went from being a Korean-only outfit to one of the world's biggest electronics makers. But it's tough to say if it did so by being that much more ingenious, given that the company spent more money on marketing than it did on R&D in 2013.
How well Samsung can pull off its Tizen tactic will show how well the company can change its game. With the right moves, it could become an Apple or a Google. But if it takes the wrong step, it could end up being the next Sony.
This article, "Does Samsung want to be Google or Apple? Maybe both," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.