Strength in numbers - Mobile World Live

Strength in numbers

16 JAN 2012

It has been widely reported that Samsung is looking to align its bada low-end smartphone platform with Tizen, the operating system resulting from the merger of Intel’s MeeGo with the LiMo Platform, of which Samsung was a supporter.

Since Samsung stopped breaking out figures for its handset division, it has become difficult to assess how well bada is actually performing. According to some sources toward the tail-end of last year, it was outselling the Windows Phone platform, despite the latter having multi-vendor support – although as yet, Nokia’s adoption of the Microsoft OS has not borne fruit.

The future plan for bada has been in the spotlight for some time, with reports late last year suggesting that the vendor may look to take the platform down the open-source route – this was before HP announced this was the preferred option for its webOS assets. The South Korean company has done a sterling job building the platform in its own right, but building a healthy ecosystem with only one vendor supporting it is no easy task (Apple, obviously, being a law unto itself) – especially when the one vendor has numerous other irons in the fire.

To data, bada has been confined to a niche – low end smartphones. But the platform is not alone here, with low-cost Android devices available from a number of manufacturers, and even Nokia’s end-of-life Symbian OS platform still delivering volume in many markets. And as long as the shipment numbers remain (relatively) low, so will the appeal to developers, and a healthy content and apps portfolio is now how a platform is measured.

What Samsung could achieve through offering developers integrated bada and Tizen developer support is the same that Nokia was previously looking to gain through its Qt strategy across MeeGo and Symbian OS – an easy way for developers to write apps which run on both mass-market and high-end devices. And with the device platforms each optimised for the type of hardware they would run on, the user experience for customers is likely to be better than using any quart-into-pint-pot option.

With Samsung already leading the smartphone market, and the company eyeing the number one vendor spot overall, it is obviously in a strong position to drive penetration of whichever platforms it chooses through its portfolio. But so far, bada has been little more than a sideline, as Samsung has become the prime mover in the Android device space – and there is little indicator that this is set to change.

The big question is how big an appetite there is among the developer community for another “third way” alongside Android and iOS. Indeed, there are a number of candidates for this position, including Windows Phone (with added Nokia) and RIM’s legacy BlackBerry (Java) and nascent (QNX/BlackBerry 10) platforms, even before bada/Tizen is added to the mix.

Perhaps the most likely option is that the alternative approach will not be for another native environment, but for HTML5, which can be used to create apps which can run across handsets from different vendors. While Android and iOS offer the economies of scale to support native development and app porting, none of the other platforms are in the same position. Why not, then, look to a path which can embrace all of them?

RIM has already embraced HTML5 as a future path, as has Tizen, which promises “a robust and flexible environment for application developers, based on HTML5 and Wholesale Applications Community (WAC).” Positioning HTML5 as the heart of bada as well could enable Samsung to benefit from an enlarged developer ecosystem with reduced barriers to entry.

Steve Costello

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members

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Steve Costello

Steve works across all of Mobile World Live’s channels and played a lead role in the launch and ongoing success of our apps and devices services. He has been a journalist...More

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