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Samsung Unveils First Tizen Smartphone — Should Ubuntu Be Worried?

samsung tizen phoneThe very first Tizen-powered smartphone is to go on sale in Russia later this year.

Samsung, who are part of the steering group overseeing development of the versatile Linux-based open-source OS, unveiled its debut Tizen handset at the Computex tradeshow in Taiwan this week.

But while the tech giant bills it as a premium device, the Samsung Z features rather humdrum specifications, with a 4.8-inch AMOLED screen rocking a 720p resolution and a quad-core processor ticking along at 2.3GHz.

Keeping up with the Tim Cook’s Joneses the Z will ship with a built-in fingerprint sensor.

The ‘Z’ will launch in Russia later this year with TechCrunch reporting that other markets will receive it thereafter. A ‘Tizen App Store’ will offer a selection of native applications, while the inclusion of the Open Mobile compatibility layer will offer access to a wide array of Android apps, too.

Further details are expected to be revealed at the Tizen conference in San Francisco next week.

The battle for Samsung will be in persuading users that the ‘Z’ is a viable alternative to existing entrenched players like Android. But how?

Nokia and Microsoft managed to drive forward Windows Phone’s flatlining marketshare through aggressive pricing and clever marketing. In the UK sub-£150 Lumias have been flying off the shelves, with Windows Phone marketshare now at a healthy 11% and rising.

Ubuntu Touch 0, Tizen 3

bq-aquaris-e5-03

Bq will replace Android 4.4 with Ubuntu on the new Aquaris

What does the release of a Tizen smartphone mean for Ubuntu’s own mobile effort? Will the arrival of yet another open-source Linux OS (this one backed by a tech heavyweight) make it harder to carve out a niche?

It depends on how fast Ubuntu can get to market and how much it impresses when it arrives.

Right now, from my own hands on, the Ubuntu mobile face remains rough and the app selection mostly made up of browser bookmarks masquerading behind dedicated launcher icons.

Then there’s the ‘convergence’ dream. For many, the unique selling point of Ubuntu for devices is that it can be ‘docked’ to a monitor to function as a traditional PC. The first handsets are unlikely to offer this transformational feature and there are rumblings that suggest a Mir-driven desktop UI will not be ready until 2016. 

Tizen, like Ubuntu, is also aimed at spanning form factors, albeit in a less fluid way. From in-car PCs and TVs to digital cameras, Tizen is versatile enough to run on them all. Intel even demonstrated a Tizen laptop last year.

Personally, at this juncture, it’s best to put the ‘phone as PC’ notion to one side and focus on comparing oranges to oranges. Ubuntu phones need to function as phones first and foremost and progress on this front so far points to a decent, functional experience. Railing against Tizen based on functionality Ubuntu promises to add a year or so down the roadmap isn’t fair.

‘Fading Force’

‘Could big brand support end up working against Tizen?’

Mark Shuttleworth previously described Tizen as a ‘fading force’ from which many of its backers were retreating.

This may be true of smaller players less able to take risks on an upstart OS, but Samsung, who is now the world’s largest technology company, remain fully committed to the project — support evidenced by a recent update to the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch that replaces the Android OS with Tizen.

Could the big name support actually end up working against Tizen? Samsung is clearly betting big on it. Its arrival in Russia later this year will no doubt be accompanied by a huge push in marketing spend and advertising.

Consumer expectations will be inflated; the device will be pitched as a more performant alternative to Android, a cheaper option to iOS and a less obtuse offering than Windows Phone.

The danger is that those buying into the hype end up disappointed.

As we noted in an article earlier this year, Canonical is opting to go the opposite way. The first devices will be pitched at enthusiasts and developers – those okay with rough edges and gaps in app offerings.

Meanwhile, the first Ubuntu handsets from Bq and Meizu are still on course for release in the latter part of this year.

The Bq device is rumoured to feature a 4.5-inch IPS qHD display, 1GB RAM, 8GB or 16GB storage and a quad-core MediaTek CPU clocked at 1.3GHz. Comments made by Canonical CEO Jane Silber earlier this year suggest that it will retail online somewhere around the $200-300 mark.