Report: Sprint, DoCoMo and other carriers back away from Samsung's Tizen

Samsung Electronics has publicly and privately invested a great deal of time, energy and money into supporting the mobile platform Tizen, but momentum for the software seems to be faltering. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, some of the world's largest carriers--including Sprint (NYSE:S) in the United States--are backing away or hedging their support for Tizen just as it appeared to be on the cusp of being commercially introduced.

Samsung is the largest backer of the Tizen Association, an open-source group that was created through the merger of the former MeeGo and LiMo platforms. Other Tizen supporters include Intel, Huawei, Orange and Vodafone. Samsung has positioned Tizen as one of its many platform options, but analysts have consistently said Samsung could be using Tizen as a hedge against Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, which is Samsung's bread and butter for smartphones and tablets. (Samsung also supports Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 platform.)  

"Consumer needs are changing along with the changing times," Samsung co-CEO Boo-Keun Yoon said last month. "I don't feel you can lead the market by focusing solely on software or hardware."

NTT DoCoMo had been expected to announce its Tizen smartphone in mid-January, but has since pushed back its plans to do so. DoCoMo President Kaoru Kato said at a recent news conference for DoCoMo's quarterly earnings that "Tizen continues to be extremely important" but added that "we will watch global market trends to decide on a launch."

In further blows to Tizen, Sprint (NYSE:S) left the Tizen Association last year and now is focusing its resources "on more immediate product launches," an unnamed person familiar with the matter told the Journal. Telefónica also left the Tizen Association and has become a key supporter of Mozilla's Firefox OS, which it is pushing in the low-end smartphone market in Latin America. Orange said the speed of development at Tizen "is not as mature as we may have expected at this point" and an Orange spokesman told the Journal the carrier doesn't have a Tizen device in its current smartphone roadmap.

The Tizen Association is holding an event just ahead of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, to give a sneak peak at the latest Tizen devices.

The difficulties for Tizen come as Samsung and Google have reportedly been ironing out their differences. They recently announced a wide-ranging patent-licensing deal that covers the companies' existing patent portfolios and all patents they will each file over the next 10 years. Further, according to Re/code, which cited unnamed sources, after pressure from Google Samsung agreed to modify its user interface for future devices and highlight Google's suite of apps for movies, music and other content at the expense of its own in-house-developed software.

"With Google we have a close relationship and we will continue to be an important strategic partner and collaborate together," a Samsung spokesman told the Journal, adding that Samsung will continue to support multiple operating systems.

Google recently announced plans to sell its Motorola Mobility division to Lenovo for $2.91 billion, an action that will reduce the complexity of Google's Android strategy by removing direct competition between Google's Motorola and other Android handset makers like Samsung.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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