Galaxy S4, a Launch Pad for Samsung's Great OS Escape

If there is one strategic story standing out from the launch of Galaxy S4, it is Samsung’s push bring more and more of on its own software, apps and services onto its flagship devices. This was clearly noticeable already with GS3, and it looks like that since then the firm has just doubled down. Air View, Smart Stay, and Smart Pause are all meant add new flavour to TouchWiz and increasingly hide the taste of the Android vanilla.

There are also in-house apps to do translations and interpretations, voice-guided navigation, as well as sync and store files. In line with this narrative, the word “Android” wasn’t uttered during the launch presentations, and in the press release it gets a mention only in the spec section towards the bottom.

Whether the additives constitute a meaningful attempt at differentiation or a hideous potpourri of bloatware is down to anyone's own judgement. Either way, whether they add to or subtract from the UX is only one angle here. As it happens, quite interestingly from a more strategic point of view, Samsung also said yesterday that it plans to introduce a “high-end” smartphone running on Tizen in Q3. Tizen has been previously positioned as an OS alternative for low- and mid-tier devices, so the news that it will be also mixed with the latest and the greatest of the device specs certainly warrants some attention.

I’ve recently covered the outlook for OS customization to a fairly great extent, starting from a report we published in February. In the report we identified certain areas where the customization of existing OSes is the likeliest to occur, with China being one noteworthy example. Samsung’s need to detach itself from Android is another area that should be followed closely. Regardless of the company’s amnesic posturing as a self-sustaining, stand-alone ecosystem there’s no denying that at the end of the day it is Samsung that is exposed to and depended on Android, and not vice versa. The Galaxy series couldn’t fly with any other OS, especially given how little Samsung has invested in Windows Phone.

All signs are pointing to Samsung trying to pull off a Great OS Escape within the next year or two. Doing it with an Android fork would be far too risky, since it might well get the vendor ejected from the Open Handset Alliance, which then would put all of its certified Android-based devices at serious disadvantage. Bada is dead, and one can’t knit a high-end escape rope out of Firefox OS, so the hero’s role is now reserved for Tizen. It will be given a kick start with the software and service portfolio that Samsung has accumulated during its Galactic era, and an extra shot in the arm from the brand equity that Samsung’s gargantuan marketing budget has by now bought it. In these circumstances Tizen is certainly worth a punt.