This year, Samsung will sell (at least) two phones and a watch that don't run Android. Instead, they'll run something called Tizen. That's a major departure for such an important player in the smartphone game. But what is Tizen? And will you actually want to use it?
Tizen is a Linux-based open-source operating system (kind of like Android!) that wants to be the brains of every gadget you own. It's existed since 2012, but is finally starting to show up on actual gadgets you can buy.
Tizen isn't trying to reinvent smartphones from the bottom up. Like Android—or more specifically the Android Open Source Project (ASOP)—it's born out of good old fashioned Linux. On the surface, it even looks just like the kind of phone software you're used to. Especially if you've used a Samsung phone with TouchWiz. Even better, Tizen is supposed to have great battery life.
Just like Android (and every other mobile OS) it gets things done with apps. Instead of trying to get people to make new apps (like Microsoft does with Windows Phone), Tizen relies mostly HTML5 web apps. It has a few native defaults like calculators and alarms, but most of Tizen's optional apps will be web-based. That means that it's easy to make something work on Tizen and everywhere else at the same time. The downside? HTML5 apps aren't known for being too snappy.
The reason Tizen looks so much like Android is because it's trying to steal Android users away. Tizen's two biggest backers are Samsung—which makes crazy money selling Android devices, but would love the freedom of being able to cut Google out of the loop—and Intel, whose chips are great at running things like full Windows, but not so much at Android.
It's an escape plan in case Samsung's relationship with Google ever gets too contentious, and potentially yet another operating system to choose from in an increasingly crowded field.
Tizen is already out in the wild on Samsung's newest Gear devices (most notably the Gear 2 smartwatch) and has already snuck out (in a very early form) on a camera or two. And while Samsung and Intel would be more than happy to have it running on anything and everything from smart-fridges to all-in-one PCs, its most natural fit is a Tizen phone.
There's no actual Tizen phone yet, but there will be soon; Samsung is planning to sell two versions this year. Tizen won't be the operating system for Samsung's next flagship phone or anything; it's not quite ready yet. But if it finds even an ounce of acceptance, you'll be sure to see more and more of them. Maybe even, before too long, on a device you'll actually want to own.