Chances for a Tizen Smartphone Entry
Dynamics of Intel, Samsung, Google and Motorola
Intel has enjoyed a partnership with Google's Motorola unit, which would seemingly put any future strategic focus on Tizen at odds with Samsung's potential distancing of Android. Additionally, Intel considers Android and Windows to be complimentary technologies. It follows that Intel's market view of Tizen will be similar in the sense that even as Tizen winds up competing with Android for market share, Intel will profit nicely, supporting both platforms with specialized chips and drivers.
In any case, having Intel on board as a Tizen partner will please open-source enthusiasts and Linux users alike. Being the number one commercial contributor to the Linux kernel, "Intel gets the bigger picture of open-source value", says Kaveh Nasri of the Open Source Technology Center. "When you do (open source), the consumer benefits."
Intel Open Source Technology Center
Mr Nasri's group at the Open Source Technology Center is busy developing drivers for the next generation of Intel chips that could soon be powering a Tizen device coming to market, even as Intel competes with several other strong mobile semiconductor manufacturers like ARM, NVIDIA and Qualcomm, he reports. Tizen engineers build development images for both IA32 and ARM architectures on a regular basis, and while the scarcely distributed Intel Black Bay handset housed an IA32 Atom processor, the majority of existing Tizen-powered experimental devices like the Samsung RD-210 and Samsung RD-PQ pack ARM processors.
Figure 3. The Samsung-Made Tizen-powered RD-PQ Handset Presented at Mobile World Congress 2013
Lion's Lair of Mobile Competitors
When asked about Tizen's chances as far as competing with established trend-setters like Android and iOS, midterm arrivals like Blackberry 10 and Windows Phone, or emerging contenders like Firefox OS, Ubuntu Touch or Sailfish, Mr Nasri says that Intel's commercial interests are OS-agnostic. "We just want to sell our silicon", he indicates of Intel's chips and supporting drivers. Linux Foundation Operations Manager Brian Warner provides a different perspective, stating that "Linux collectively does better" when more Linux-based platforms compete. "There is a real opportunity here, and we want to see them all succeed."
Tizen was once almost alone in the category of fledgling mobile operating systems. Now this space is filled by Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS and others.
Historical Moblin and MeeGo Failures
Such statements are loaded with a rich history of ups and downs at Intel and the Linux Foundation along with associated technologies. Intel is the founder of Moblin and along with the Linux Foundation was a strong supporting partner of MeeGo, the mobile-optimized predecessors to Tizen. Many would have preferred these technologies to thrive, but their short-lived experimental nature leads some to question Tizen's viability, especially after unraveling corporate partnerships accelerated MeeGo's fall.
Mr Nasri reflects on his 24-year tenure at Intel and remarks, "There's all sorts of alliances and agreements" between Intel and its partners. In the present case, aside from the Linux Foundation, the two key corporate players supporting Tizen are Intel and Samsung. While Samsung likely has its own bet-hedging mobile strategy, Samsung executive VP Jong-Deok Choi gives assurance of full Tizen support in explaining that "Tizen and Android will get along very well."
But a cynical perspective of Tizen's market chances based on Moblin and Atom chips is hard to apply considering Intel's success in the processor races with PowerPC and AMD. Savvy mobile computing enthusiasts may appreciate Intel's long-term contributions to a vibrant open-source ecosystem and protection of computing freedom by supporting community projects like Cordova and Connman. When asked about his alleged opposition to a nearly decided walled-garden deployment approach, chief architect of the Intel Open Source Technology Center Sunil Saxena humbly smiles. His expression as speaking history implies a profound understanding that Tizen's chances of success lie on a solid but open technology foundation.
Tizen's kernel is Linux and includes a number of familiar userspace tools and libraries. It provides users and developers with a number of freedoms, like application side loading rather than a walled garden.
Early Benefits of Open Source
Mr Nasri agrees that Tizen can beat the odds in contrast to Moblin, MeeGo and even Symbian or Bada. He brings up the important topic of intrusive legal bureaucracy, such as intellectual property constraints typical at large corporations. Open source allows us to do an "end run around the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) lawyers", he states.
The Flora License
Just one problem exists with the open-source approach taken by Tizen. Original Tizen source code (as opposed to integrated components) is licensed under terms of the Flora license, which is not approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). In theory, this failure to obtain OSI's blessing places Tizen somewhere in between proprietary and open-source platforms. In practice, this choice could affect a number of interested parties. Assuming that many would otherwise use Tizen for its added development and operating freedom, the choice of a Flora license is unfortunate and may cloud management's ability to judge Tizen's legal viability in their markets.
An industry insider familiar with intellectual property (IP) law states, "likely at this stage our only real allies are the open dev crowd, those who like Tizen because it is open and a real Linux." The insider claims that, "Firefox OS dev phones sold out almost instantly" for just this reason.
Figure 4. GUI Tools Distributed in the Tizen SDK 2.1 (GNU Free Documentation License 1.3)
Michael Schloh von Bennewitz is a computer scientist and expert on network software engineering.