Samsung makes half of the Android-based smartphones globally, and Android now has more than 70% of the global smartphone market, according to research firms IDC and Gartner. The confirmation of a phone running on Tizen came hours after Samsung announced the Galaxy S4 smartphone running Android 4.2.2 in a lavish Broadway-style production from New York City.
During the New York unveiling, analysts noticed that Samsung barely mentioned that the Galaxy S4 runs on Android. Some speculated that Samsung was setting the stage for greater use of Tizen as an OS. In a Bloomberg news service interview from Seoul, Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of Samsung mobile, said the Tizen smartphone "will be in the high-end category" and "the best product equipped with best specifications."
Samsung officials did not respond to a Computerworld request to elaborate on the Tizen news and specifically whether Samsung would sell it in the U.S.
Kevin Burden, an analyst at Strategy Analytics, said Samsung is motivated to move away from Android, partly because it wants greater control over the operating system in its phones. Samsung, Intel and Sprint are working together on further development of Tizen, although it appears several other manufacturers plan to use the OS.
For months since Google acquired Motorola, analysts have speculated that Samsung and other manufacturers of phones running Android would be seeking alternatives to Google's Android. The phone makers figured Android would become the favored platform for Motorola, which would likely put them at a disadvantage.
While Samsung runs Android 4.2.2, the latest version, on the Galaxy S4, it is evident that the OS will begin to fall out of date once Google announces an upgrade, probably at the Google I/O conference in May. That next generation of Android is expected to be called Key Lime Pie, following the current designation of 4.2 as Jelly Bean. (Google has used sweets in alphabetical order to name the Android upgrades.)
Some analysts have speculated that Samsung is further inclined to move off Android because its OS updates have been sometimes slow to roll out to all devices and manufacturers, adding to the criticism from Apple and others that Android is a fragmented OS. Even Samsung officials, in announcing the company's KNOX security enhancements at Mobile World Congress, called Android fragmented.
At the Galaxy S4 launch event, analysts noted that Samsung was creating its own ecosystem instead of using the Android approach, renaming and altering some software features that rely on Android underneath. The biggest example of that is how Samsung adds its own interface to Android, calling it TouchWiz, as it has in many previous smartphones.
The way that Samsung launched the S4 and showed a long list of Samsung-inspired features, such as Smart Pause and Smart Scroll for gesture controls of the device, gave the impression that the OS wasn't necessarily integral to the phone, several analysts said.
Samsung's hour-long event covered many new features in the GS4, prompting Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC, to wonder, "How are they going to train the salespeople to cover it all?"
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner, said it will be harder to describe and promote software features to potential customers than to simply show differences in hardware.
Shortly after the presentation, Samsung released an under-five-minute YouTube video that describes many of the S4's features, which could be a start to addressing some of the feature complexity.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.