The lights are off, the booths are packed up, the devices tucked away, and it’s 5:30 a.m. in the Barcelona airport. Guess it’s time for a Tizen update. There’s been a lot written about the most recent Tizen devices (Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, joining the NX300M and the NX30) so I won’t rehash that here, but I would like to put them into context.
For anyone who didn’t see me there, I spent this week at Mobile World Congress in the Tizen booth. As the manager of the Tizen project at The Linux Foundation, I got a lot of questions about Tizen, how to use it, where to use it, how to develop apps for it, and so on.
As I discussed with visitors to the Tizen booth this week – and we had a lot – mobile phones are one part of the story, and certainly a highly anticipated and very intriguing part of the story, but by no means are they all of the story. Tizen has never been exclusively about phones (although articles about Tizen phones drive pageviews, so it’s what people like to write about).
From the very start, Tizen has had the concept of device profiles, where there’s a common set of core software components (kernel, coreutils, networking stack, etc.) that are applicable to every type of device, and there are specializations specific to whatever it is you’re using. Take your hand and open it flat. Ok? Good. Your palm is the core software stack, and your fingers are the device-specific profiles – handset, IVI, TV, etc. Chances are good that many elements of the core stack will be the same, and in all cases you want to optimize for lower power consumption and better performance, but what a smartphone presents to the user is generally quite different from an IVI system, or a wearable device, or a camera, or a TV, or a refrigerator, or… I’m sure you get the point. One size doesn’t fit all, but you certainly can be smart about not reinventing the wheel for each product class.
In this context, it makes sense why the Tizen project overall has kept multiple device types in mind from the beginning, and why we’re starting to see things like watches and cameras hit the market with Tizen. It also explains why I had a number of other companies ask me about using Tizen in their own devices – wearables, tablets, etc. There was real interest in Tizen as the base platform for new devices, given that the intent has been to deliver a platform where the UI layer can be used as-is or ripped and replaced with something truly unique. And all the better if that effort places a high priority on using efficient components in the stack that yield better performance and battery life for embedded devices.
Empirically, this strategy works. It’s virtually impossible to build any sort of successful consumer electronics device today without using some variant of Linux, unless of course you’re Apple (and even they make extensive use of open source). Because development cycle times have gotten so short, feature lists have grown so long, and consumer expectations are so high, electronics manufacturers need all the help they can get to turn out products quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively. If you have a well-diversified portfolio, one of the smartest things to do is to pick a platform and converge on it, ideally one that will scale from the smallest devices to the largest and most capable ones. This isn’t rocket science, it’s good engineering strategy – but it does require taking a step back and looking from a broader perspective than any one type of device in order to see it.
In case it wasn’t clear, I’m incredibly enthusiastic about Tizen. It was a great week, with a lot of really good questions being asked by platform and app developers alike. Great things are coming.