There was a big splash when Motorola announced it’s new very affordable Moto G phone a couple of months ago and it’s continued to receive great reviews since. There was a slightly smaller splash when Samsung announced their new Tizen operating system, making many think they are going to drop Google’s Android, but the noise around this new platform has only grown since. More devices, more platforms! Add giants such as Apple and Microsoft, as well as smaller players like Firefox and Ubuntu to the mix and you’ve got all-out warfare! Or have you?
Is it easier to depict any development in computing as a war to get the clicks that a wild headline can bring? People seem to love the Samsung leaving Android, and Apple leaving Samsung stories. You can tell that the big news sites have their analytics artillery focussed on this area – it’s undoubtedly someone’s (or several people’s) full-time job to stick key buzzwords like “Apple” or “Samsung” into the headlines of otherwise unrelated stories to get clicks.
Away from the click-bait, what’s the reality of the new landscape that’s emerging? Really, it’s a win-win for us users (WARNING: mild scenes of geekiness ahead). At the bottom layers, Android is just Linux, though due to time pressures they’ve diverted from “pure” Linux to a small degree, and they have their own thing going on above it for Apps and the UI. Tizen is a bit more pure, similar to ChromeOS that Google use on their laptops. So basically take Linux and put a browser on top.
So we can say that Tizen’s the descendant of a few similar projects, basically any one of which could have become “Android” (in the sense of the open source Linux based OS that everyone decided to work on together, which gets an early lead and then snowballs into being the only one that really matters).
But the nature of Open Source means that they’re all overlapping to a great degree anyway. Some originally had Java or Desktop Linux bits and bobs but they seem to all have converged over the years on using just Linux plus browser (so Apps are written in HTML5). If you don’t need your TV, fridge or in-car entertainment system to actually run Android apps, then Linux plus a browser saves you a bit of effort, particularly as no-one is going to write an Android app tuned just for your tiny market segment, but if the same app works on iOS, Android, FirefoxOS, Tizen and even Windows and Mac OS X then why not? This is also why the project is under the banner of the Linux Foundation, to foster cross corporate co-operation.
Intel working on making Linux better, Samsung working on making Blink better, people writing HTML5 apps that’ll work on all sorts of obscure platforms, people like the automotive industry getting together and deciding it’s pointless to compete on the hidden parts of their in-car entertainment systems so they should just adopt an open system and get on with other things, it’s all very positive for the end user, businesses and society in general. It’s good for Google too (almost everything they do is aimed at getting people to use the web more) and even for Android specifically given the overlap in tech. Though personally, I think Google would be happier with a Tizen style OS going forward and they consider the native apps thing a temporary distraction, so I can see Android evolving into ChromeOS more than the other way round (the Google Glasses API is basically HTML5, even though they technically run Android under the covers).
So what does this all mean? Why do the Moto G and Tizen really matter? The reason they matter is that they represent the new world of competition and cooperation that the internet has brought about. Before the internet, cartels and monopolies would have been the order of the day in software – now those inefficiencies have a much harder time surviving. Instead, we have a ferocious pace of improvement in devices and services. And who wins? You, the user.