Should You Develop for Tizen?

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 12.38.00 PMLaunching a brand-new mobile operating system is, to put it mildly, a difficult endeavor. It takes years of development, hordes of devoted programmers, a couple hardware partners, and a willingness on the part of the developer community to build third-party apps that’ll actually attract users.

Given those challenges, a new mobile operating system emerges only once in a long while, although the past few quarters have seen the rise of some notable contenders: Ubuntu Touch for smartphones, first unveiled by Canonical in January 2013; Firefox OS (known previously as “Boot to Gecko”), a mobile operating system based on HTML5; Amazon’s Fire OS, an Android-based operating system for Kindle tablets; and Tizen, an HTML5-based project that resides within the Linux Foundation (and is governed by a Technical Steering Group comprised of Samsung and other companies).

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Of those new operating systems, Tizen has attracted a fair bit of press over the past few months, thanks to its connections with Samsung; unlike Firefox OS or Ubuntu Touch, whose creators are struggling mightily to convince hardware manufacturers to incorporate the software into smartphones and tablets, Tizen already comes with major OEM backing. Samsung phones and “smartwatches” loaded with the Tizen OS were on display at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Analysts don’t think Samsung will dump Google Android in favor of Tizen anytime soon, and that prediction makes sense: although Tizen has an increasingly smooth polish, it doesn’t have access to Google’s native apps (such as Gmail and YouTube) or the Google Play app storefront, both of which remain major draws to the Android platform. In addition, Samsung can’t chuck Android without risking Google’s wrath, and neither company wants to fight a war with each other (battling Apple is another story).

That being said, Samsung seems determined to let its Tizen experiment play out. But should developers—who don’t have the conglomerate’s time and resources—bother with learning the ins and outs of the platform, or simply continue to focus on Apple’s iOS and Google Android?

The best answer is probably “wait and see.” Tizen doesn’t have enough of a presence (yet) to guarantee developers a steady income stream from custom-built apps and software, and it seems unlikely that other smartphone manufacturers will embrace the platform in the short term. If your professional goals include generating an audience and profits via mobile software and apps, you’re better served with sticking to iOS and Android rather than devoting significant time and resources to this platform.

Those who’re curious about Tizen can head over to the software’s dedicated website, which includes all sorts of helpful materials such as an introduction to the SDK (PDF), a list of upcoming Tizen-centric events (such as a San Francisco developer conference June 2-4), and, of course, the actual Tizen 2.2.1 release (that website also includes a link to Tizen SDK for Wearable 1.0.0b1, if you want to develop your own smartwatch software). There’s some interesting stuff in there; but for the moment, Tizen seems more of an experiment (and for Samsung, a possible negotiating lever with Google) than a viable platform.

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Image: Tizen