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NTT DoCoMo says two mobe OSes are enough, so sayonara to Tizen

March launch for Linux-powered phone OS put on indefinite hold

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The open-source Tizen mobile OS has suffered another setback, with Japanese mobile giant NTT DoCoMo announcing that it has put off plans to launch a smartphone powered by the system this year.

The carrier had earlier said that it would launch a Tizen device in March. But according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, a DoCoMo spokesman has said that it has shelved those plans for now.

"The market is not big enough to support three operating systems at this time," DoCoMo's So Hiroki reportedly said, citing research from IDC Japan showing only 2.2 per cent growth in the Japanese smartphone market for the April-to-September period.

The other two operating systems to which Hiroki refers are, of course, Android and iOS, which together account for 99.1 per cent of the Japanese smartphone market, according to the latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel.

Had DoCoMo gone ahead with its plans, it would have been the first carrier in the world to offer a Tizen phone. Although some reference devices have been distributed to developers, the Linux-based OS has yet to ship on any commercially available handset.

Just which vendor would supply the Tizen phone that DoCoMo intended to sell has never been confirmed, but Samsung was always the most likely culprit, being one of the platform's biggest supporters. (Those Tizen developer phones were made by Samsung, too.)

But Samsung seems to have encountered some stumbling blocks of its own. Last January it announced that "more than one" Tizen-powered handset would debut in 2013. In the end, none did.

Earlier this month, the Korean firm said it would publish release dates for its Tizen kit ahead of this year's Mobile World Congress in February, but so far this just sounds like a repeat of last year's announcement.

Whatever hold-ups are keeping Samsung from shipping its Tizen devices have forced its carrier partners to adjust their plans, too. At the Tizen Developer Conference last March, NTT DoCoMo said it would ship its first Tizen-based phone in the second half of 2013. That obviously didn't happen, and now it's unclear whether it ever will.

At the time, French telecoms giant Orange was said to be the second carrier in line to offer Tizen devices. But in November, the company's device boss Yves Maitre said that it, too, had postponed its plans indefinitely while it "reassesses its strategy."

What all of this means for Tizen's future isn't clear. But unlike NTT DoCoMo, Orange maintains that it's still intent on creating more competition for Android and iOS in the smartphone market – a sentiment that was often repeated during last year's developer conference. And even DoCoMo says it will still work on Tizen devices, despite having no immediate plans to sell them.

Still, with Firefox OS and Jolla's Sailfish already having launched to somewhat muted reception from consumers, and with Ubuntu Phone still in the works, the window of opportunity for yet another Linux-based mobile OS appears to be narrowing. Unless Samsung and the other Tizen contributors can ship a mobile platform that's truly extraordinary, DoCoMo's decision to hold off may prove to be a wise one. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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