With various mobile operating systems from Apple Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Research in Motion Ltd. and The Symbian Foundation to chose from, why should app developers pay attention to Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s recent entry into the space?
The key is global distribution, according to Martin Tannerfors, director of the San Jose Mobile Communications Lab, a mobile R&D group for Samsung Telecommunications America LLC.
“There are a lot of players, but if you look across the board at these platforms, they are targeting the same market segment – it’s the high end premium devices,” said Tannerfors in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada at Samsung’s recent Bada Developer Day in Toronto.
Samsung’s new smart phone platform, Bada, targets the mid-market and higher end of the low market instead, he said. “Developers want to reach a global audience, not just the ten per cent who are affluent enough to buy a very premium-end device,” he said.
“Samsung is a very carrier-friendly company,” said Kanghyun Kwon, vice-president of the Content Service Team for the Media Solution Center at Samsung Electronics in Korea. The Bada platform is currently available in more than 85 countries from more than 150 carriers, he said.
Developers that sell Bada apps through Samsung’s app store receive 70 per cent of the revenue and the other 30 per cent is split between Samsung and/or the carrier, said Tannerfors. The 70-30 revenue model applies to all developers worldwide, he said.
“Reaching that distribution through one channel is probably the best feature for developers,” said Tannerfors.
Enabling carriers to use the Bada platform to consume content without requiring a bank account or credit card will also help speed up the adoption and consumption of applications, said Tannerfors, especially in emerging markets where pre-paid services are prevalent.
Another significant part of the Bada ecosystem is the server base, said Kwon.
Adam Smith, CEO and director of experience design at Toronto-based Liquid Reality, said the Bada server is significant because “it actually offloads some processing power to the cloud.” It also “does a lot of integration with location-based services and social,” he said.
“It creates a means for services to be created on an ongoing basis that can actually be integrated into the operating system by developers as they become available, thus reducing the need for carriers to actually upgrade the operating system,” said Smith.
Another distinguishing feature of Bada is that it is not an underlying OS, it’s a platform, said Tannerfors. Bada is built on an operating system that’s been with Samsung for over a decade, he said.
The platform could easily run on Linux and that is something that is very possible for the future, he said. But “it will be consistent, whether it is an RTOS operating system or a Linux operating system, the platform will remain the same,” he said.
Bada also includes Flash and HTML5 support.
Samsung is holding free, single-day bada conferences for developers in cities across 20 countries worldwide. The company is also hosting a global competition for developers that includes $2.7 million in prizes.
Feedback from developers at other bada conferences has been very positive in regards to the Social Hub because there isn’t as much programming required to engage with other third party APIs, said Tannerfors.
“You can use one API with Bada and you can basically get access to all these different feature-rich services, whether it’s Twitter, Instant Messaging, e-mail or MySpace,” he said.
Smith, who attended the event in Toronto, sees Bada as “essentially a push to take people that are used to more standard picture phones and flip phones and bring them more into the modern smart phone era,” he said.
“It seems like a very robust platform. They are putting it on hardware that will definitely be able to support it, unlike Palm did, and just in terms of fitting between the current camera phone market and smart phone market, I think they have a really unique play,” he said.
Samsung is also “really pushing for social integration, which is really good for that mid-tier user,” said Smith.
“People that are not necessarily going to be using high end smart phones do a lot of browsing and a lot of data consumption … The application APIs that they provide will really allow developers to create these applications that fit really well into the needs of that middle market,” he said.
But while the model is “fantastic at bringing the middle tier into a higher middle end of user,” Smith anticipates lower penetration and lower app purchases.
“When you start thinking about it from a worldwide perspective and countries in Europe and in the East, people that aren’t buying high end cell phones don’t necessarily always have the same amount of financial leeway to purchase applications,” he said.
Jayanth Angl, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said it’s a little early to tell whether developers should focus their efforts on Bada. “But it is not something I would discount,” he said.
“Samsung is one of the largest mobile suppliers worldwide, so it has a significant pull with a number of global operators,” he said. There is a potentially very large audience base and support across carriers is most likely going to be there, he said.
There is also “nothing that would be a major barrier to pursuing development,” said Angl. “It might be more straightforward to develop an application and move forward and get it deployed to your audience,” he said.
Samsung can now deliver “the whole stack” – the hardware components, the devices, the OS, and the applications, said Angl. “From a strategy standpoint, it makes a lot of sense that they are doing this,” he said.
But the overall market is already fragmented with the iPhone, Android platform and Blackberry, and with Microsoft’s Windows Phone on the horizon, Samsung will face challenges in the near term, he said.
Samsung announced Bada in the fall of 2009 and unveiled the first smart phone running the Bada platform, the Wave S8500, in February at the Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona.
The Wave launched May 24 in European countries. The device is expected to arrive in Canada in early July through Rogers Communications Inc. and Bell Canada Enterprises Inc.
After expanding across Europe, Samsung plans to extend the Wave to Southeast Asia, China, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. There are no specific plans to launch the phone in the United States, although Samsung isn’t ruling out the possibility.
Samsung is “very committed to the Android platform,” said Tannerfors. The current focus in the U.S. is on Samsung’s Galaxy S phones, which run Android, he said.