Software release suggests Samsung could soon launch a smartphone running Tizen

Samsung's first Tizen smartphone has already received Wi-Fi certification and will probably hit the market early next year, say analysts

Tizen 2.0, the open-source smartphone operating system, is now available as an alpha release with an accompanying Software Development Kit (SDK), the Tizen project has announced. The release lends credence to rumors that project member Samsung Electronics is planning to launch a version of its Galaxy S3 smartphone running Tizen instead of Google's Android.

The release is aimed at developers who can start working with new features and provide feedback in "the final stages" of Tizen's development, the Tizen Technical Steering Group announced on its blog.

Tizen is a Linux-based open-source operating system and software platform backed by Samsung, Intel and other vendors. The software is intended for use in devices such as smartphones, tablets, netbooks, in-vehicle infotainment devices, and smart TVs.

The latest code release shows that Tizen is getting closer to a usable product, and comes two weeks after the Wi-Fi Alliance published a document certifying that a Samsung smartphone named the "GT-I9300_TIZEN" had passed Wi-Fi interoperability testing, according to a copy of the document in Google's cache. GT-i9300 is the model name Samsung gives to Galaxy S3 smartphones, all of which currently run Android, indicating that Samsung might be working on a Galaxy S3 variant that runs Tizen.

Samsung did not immediately comment on its plans for Tizen, and the Wi-Fi Alliance certificate has been modified since its initial publication, now listing the smartphone as the GT-I9300Z).

The Tizen 2.0 alpha release provides developers with the Tizen kernel, device drivers, middleware subsystems, and Web APIs, necessary to develop future Tizen-compliant software, according to the source code release page.

The latest release for instance adds advanced HTML5 features such as video subtitles and captions and a battery status application programming interface, the steering group wrote. A multi-process Webkit2-based Web Runtime was also added to provide better security and reliability for Web applications, the team announced among other improvements.

The steering group is planning to add additional components in the coming weeks and is planning to make additional enhancements to the Tizen OS "over the coming months" based on feedback from developers. The alpha 2.0 source code release follows a preview release of the OS source code last January.

Analysts expect that Samsung, one of the biggest backers of the project, will release a Tizen based smartphone at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year. It is more likely, though, that Samsung will release a Tizen phone in early 2013, said Francisco Jeronimo, research manager at IDC. "Tizen won't give them huge sales volume," said Jeronimo, "and Samsung needs to focus on the Galaxy S3 now to compete with the iPhone 5."

The end-of-year holiday season, the most important sales period for mobile phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple, is coming up, he said. "Samsung needs to focus on its current portfolio before Christmas."

The first products running Tizen will probably be launched early next year, said analyst Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight. Tizen is a strategic operating system for Samsung, he said. The mobile phone manufacturer is fast becoming a platform company and it is highly undesirable for a big player like that to rely so much on Google's Android operating system as it does now, he added.

But Tizen is a long-term effort for Samsung and won't replace Android anytime soon, Blaber said. "They are not going to drop Android over night. Tizen is still a highly immature operating system."

Samsung will need to attract developer interest to make worthwhile applications for Tizen, and needs to interest mobile phone operators to sell smartphones running the new operating system, said Jeronimo. Besides that, Tizen is not known by customers, he added. "Most operators currently concentrate on Windows Phone," he said. Another problem is that Tizen will never get anywhere if Samsung is the only manufacturer making Tizen devices, he said.

To make Tizen work, the project needs to be directed by one vendor and not by more, said Jeronimo. Android is a good example of this, it works because Google is the one big power that gives direction to the project.

Tizen, however, is led by Samsung and Intel who both have different interests, Jeronimo said. "Intel wants to have its chips used in Tizen devices," said Jeronimo, "but Samsung uses Qualcomm and Snapdragon chips." Differences between the two companies have to be resolved if Tizen wants to succeed. "One vendor needs to set the agenda," he said, adding that he knew know successful case were more vendors tried to develop a mobile OS together.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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