Open Source

Has Samsung beaten Canonical at its own game?

Jack Wallen digs into the upcoming Samsung Tizen release to uncover how the mobile giant managed to beat Canonical to the Linux-phone punch.

Tizen

The Samsung Z is set to hit Russia in the third quarter of the year. This phone is powered by the open source Tizen operating system. For those who didn't know, Samsung has been quietly developing Tizen in the background for three years (Tizen already powers the Samsung Gear watches).

I firmly believe Samsung is testing the Tizen waters to see if the platform could be a viable alternative to Google's Android OS. If any company could pull off such a feat... it would be Samsung. But beyond the implications Tizen has to Android (the most used platform worldwide), what does this mean for the near vaporware status Ubuntu Phone?

Plenty.

While the Ubuntu Phone is still struggling to gain any serious momentum — anywhere — Samsung has already set a date for its open-source device. The latest worthwhile news from the Ubuntu Phone camp was March 19, 2014, stating that "big smartphone brands [are] looking 'seriously' at Ubuntu Phone." Prior to that, the big news was that Spanish-based BQ and China-based Meizu announced they were set to release Ubuntu Phone devices "sometime in 2014."

2014 is officially half over.

That silence is fairly damning in a world that demands a constant deluge of updates — especially when a powerhouse such as Samsung announces they are set to release the first, mass-produced, open source, Linux-based smartphone. Samsung beat Canonical to the punch, and if the Samsung Z does well in Russia, it'll be released to the rest of the world. Should that happen, the likelihood of the Ubuntu Phone having a chance, in an already saturated market, is unlikely.

Think about it this way. The IDC reports:

  • Android powers nearly 80% of the world's mobile devices
  • iOS powers just over 15% of the world's mobile devices
  • Windows phone powers just over 3% of the world's mobile devices
  • BlackBerry powers just under 2% of the world's mobile devices

There is a scant 1% left over for "Other."

Because Samsung already has such a strong presence in the Android market, and because their devices are found everywhere, they could chip away (even slightly) at both the Android and "Other" markets. The Ubuntu Phone will most likely be relegated to the "Other" market. That's not much to pull from. Those low numbers will make it a huge challenge for Canonical and the Ubuntu Phone. To make matters worse, the longer it takes for the Ubuntu Phone to make its way to market, the smaller that user base will be. That's the crux of the issue — time. Canonical announced its intention to create a Ubuntu Phone some time ago. Since then, it's been nothing but promises and a failed fundraiser for Ubuntu Edge.

The tragedy of this is that the Ubuntu Phone could well be one of the finest mobile devices to date. But because Samsung is going to likely beat Canonical to the punch, that brilliant piece of tech might flounder... simply because it couldn't get into the fight soon enough. And now, with Samsung delivering their own open-source smartphone, the chances they would join in on the Ubuntu Phone fun are pretty much nil.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see the Ubuntu Phone released and enjoy a massive success. I would personally drop my current device, without hesitation, for an Ubuntu Phone — but I don't see that happening any time soon. In fact, the likelihood that I could get my hands on a Tizen-based phone seems exponentially greater than the Ubuntu Phone.

Canonical needs to understand that timing is everything in this light-speed paced world in which we live. You cannot announce a product one year and deliver it the next. By the time you release, everyone has already moved on to the next great shiny thing. At the moment, that shiny thing might be the Samsung Z.

At least for Russia.

Will the Samsung Z have a chance in a market that's choked by two major players (Android and iOS)? Or is it already doomed before it hits the market? And does Samsung's release of the Tizen-based phone sound a death knell for the Ubuntu Phone? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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