Samsung: Don't hold your breath for a Tizen phone in the U.S.

LAS VEGAS--Samsung Electronics is unlikely to bring its first phones running the Tizen operating system to the U.S. market, according to a U.S.-based Samsung executive.

Ryan Bidan, Samsung's director of product marketing for its U.S. mobile operations, said that Samsung has not announced anything specific related to Tizen for the U.S. market, but is continuing to work on devices. However, an in interview with FierceWireless here at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, he indicated that U.S. consumers shouldn't hold their breath for a Samsung Tizen phone.

"We don't feel the U.S. is a great test market for those kinds of products," he said, noting that Samsung will likely roll out Linux-based Tizen phones in other regions of the world. "The U.S. market is pretty mature. Bringing a new entrant here that doesn't meet a certain performance bar would be a challenge. Recognizing that, we don't want to set ourselves up for failure."

Tizen phones will likely start to be sold by the end of March, NTT DoCoMo spokesman Jun Otori told AFP on Wednesday. Samsung's first Tizen smartphone will likely be unveiled next month around the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun reported Wednesday.

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 Sprint (NYSE:S), 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.)    

In the wide-ranging interview, Bidan touted the company line that it must innovate on software as well as hardware to set itself apart. "It's absolutely the right direction for us. Our opportunity to differentiate and create really neat products for consumers lies in a holistic product solution--hardware and software," he said.

At the same time, Bidan acknowledged that Samsung has invested heavily in a multitude of software features for devices like its Galaxy S4 smartphone, but that with so many of them, consumers could easily lose track and not use them. Bidan estimated that when Samsung unveiled the S4 in March the company went through well over 80 different software features, ranging from "Air View," which allows a user to hover with their fingers over the screen to preview the content of an email, image gallery or video without having to open it, to an "S Translate" translating service that supports English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Latin American Spanish, and supports speech to text and text to speech.

"It's something we struggle with all the time," he said, referring to how Samsung can continue to push software innovations without creating so much clutter that consumers lose interest. "It takes a certain amount of discipline to bring focus into that." This year, Bidan said, Samsung will focus more on "refining the things we are talking about and being more focused in the messages we are bringing to consumers" since there are likely only a handful of features consumers will find meaningful.

Samsung, the world's largest maker of smartphones and handsets by volume, made a splash last fall with the introduction of its Galaxy Gear smart watch. Smart watches, and wearables in general, have been a major theme of CES this year, and Samsung executives have said the Gear was just Samsung's first stab at wearables. Some consumers blanched at the $399 price tag for the device, which is essentially tethered to a Samsung smartphone. Samsung said in November it had shipped 800,000 Gear smart watches in two months since its debut despite middling reviews of the gadget.

Bidan said Samsung went with the watch form factor and the idea of getting notifications on the wrist because they were familiar and easy to understand concepts. However, he said that "for wearables to take off, we need to find those consumer use cases, we need to make them relevant, we need to make them interesting." Until Samsung and other companies get wearables into the mass market, they are not going to know what those experiences are, he said. Without giving anything away, Bidan said that Gear is  "a platform that can be extended."

For more:
- see AFP article
- see this TechWeekEurope article

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