Samsung held a launch event for its Bada open mobile platform in London last week. Ovum’s view is that 2010 will be the year of the low-cost smartphone. The evidence is a combination of lower-cost, high-performance chipsets (such as those based on ARM’s Cortex A5 architecture); Nokia pushing Symbian further down its range; OEMs competing to deploy Android into as many handsets as possible; and operators keen to create a mass-market alternative to the iPhone App Store. Will Samsung be able to capitalize on this opportunity with Bada?
Samsung’s timing is ideal to capitalize on these conditions, with a strategy designed to bring capabilities that users have come to expect on smartphones (location, web services, touch screens, 3D graphics, sensors, third-party applications) to its mid range.
The launch of Bada demonstrates Samsung’s understanding that to become a leader in the mobile handset industry today requires innovation in software as well as hardware. It’s increasingly difficult for OEMs to differentiate using a shared software platform, as both the services and developer ecosystem are typically owned by others, taking value away from the OEMs.
However, to avoid becoming the plastic wrapping on someone else’s software and services requires the ownership of a software platform or finessing the user experience of someone else’s software platform. The former requires heavy investment and carries greater risk, but potentially greater return. Samsung has a foot in each camp: Bada as a differentiated mid-range volume proposition; and a choice of Android, Windows Phone and Symbian platforms for its other smartphones. Samsung will pick and choose the most appropriate platform based on customer demand.
The risk for Samsung is that it fails to attract developers to support the new platform. Samsung needs to provide a developer experience that matches the best that Apple and Google can offer their developers (straightforward route to market, approval and certification of applications; comprehensive tools; a wide range of APIs and documentation; and the right developer runtimes). This is not easy, and is something Nokia is struggling with.
Samsung also needs to show quickly that it can create shipment volumes for Bada and provide developers with a significant addressable market for their applications. At this early stage there are no devices announced, and developers will need to place a lot of faith in Samsung – a risk when there is already a plethora of alternative platforms available.
Consumers will benefit from cheaper smartphone propositions and increased choice, provided user experience is not compromised by mediocre applications, content and services. Samsung has delivered some compelling mid-range devices (the Jet is a good example) but has to bring the applications and services aspect (the ‘smart’ part of smartphone) to win over consumers.
This is a bold move for Samsung, and a setback for other platforms as a potentially significant volume of Samsung devices will use Bada. In 12 months’ time we will have a good view of whether this has been a success for Samsung, or whether its ocean is too treacherous for developers to navigate.