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Why Samsung won't open the Bada OS box

Closed nature is its greatest strength

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Analysis The Wall Street Journal reckons Samsung is about to open-source its Bada OS, and then pitch it as a competitor to the increasingly patent-laden Android – but fails to properly explain why the South Korean giant would make such a move.

Citing the usual "person familiar with the situation", the WSJ states that Samsung will open-source its mobile OS next year to "reduce its reliance on... Android", to gain developer support for the OS and help it spread to other connected devices such as televisions. But what the article fails to explain is how being open source would help Bada, or Samsung, other than as an exercise in marketing.

Android is open source, the argument goes, and Android is popular, therefore Bada needs to be open source to break into the US market – the only market that matters according to Strategy Analytics, quoted by the WSJ. But one has to ask how being open source has helped Android exactly, and even the WSJ has to admit that opening up hasn't helped every mobile platform succeed.

The idea that developers will flock to help support your OS just because it is open source is clearly rubbish. One has to provide massive amounts of support, and motivation, to tap into the creativity of the masses.

Bada also has no licensees, and isn't likely to find any soon. The platform is completely locked into Samsung's own cloud services, much more akin to iOS than Android, so no competitor is going to launch a Bada handset without major modifications to the OS, modifications that will bypass Samsung's revenue stream.

Google makes money out of Android by selling licences to pre-install Android Marketplace, Gmail, Google Maps etc. Google also makes money delivering advertisements within those applications. Incarnations of Android from Amazon and Baidu, however, will not provide such revenue avenues for Google.

When the dust settles on the patent cases, Google will probably end up having to charge a licence for Android, and then Amazon et al will have to pay it, but that's in the future.

The Wall Street Journal tries to bolster its case by claiming an open-source Bada could be ported to Smart TVs. This would be a better argument if Samsung didn't already make the leading Smart TVs and have a healthy (AJAX-based) developer program already in action (take a look at iPhone-integrated poker, if you want to see a really-smart TV in action).

So there seems no advantage to having an open-source Bada, and yet "someone" told the WSJ that Bada would be open-sourced. It is worth noting that the source didn't tell the paper that Bada would be free, or licensed to competitors, only that it would be "open source". It is also worth remembering that Symbian was "open source" for many years before Nokia made it free to use – the source was open in that you could look at it, and make comments on it, but that didn't mean it was free.

Bada may well go similarly "open source" next year, but that will be no more than a marketing move by a clever company which knows its buzzwords. The closed nature of Bada is its greatest strength, and not something Samsung is going to give up any time soon. ®

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