What is Tizen and what will it mean for my phone?

Tizen as an OS has been around for a few years but hadn't, until recently, resulted in any tangible consumer products. That's slowly changing with the announcement of the Samsung NX300M and NX30 cameras and the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch.

There have been rumours for a while that Samsung might be backing Tizen as a long-term successor to Android. On the face of it, the mere idea of this seems absurd, because, while it can't be denied that Samsung is a massive force in Android phones, it is not popular just for its hardware, it's popular because of its access to the healthy Google Play app store.

Google too is very reliant on Samsung. It's a big outlet for the company's most strategically important product; Android is really important to Google these days, both as an ad platform, and as a way to understand users.

So Tizen, then, feels like a long shot as a potential replacement for Android. Or at least it did before Mobile World Congress 2014, and the announcement of Samsung's new Gear smartwatches that run this almost unheard of operating system and a prototype smartphone that owes more than mere aesthetics to the company's Galaxy Android line-up.

"So what?", you might say, they're just watches and the phone is just a developer's plaything at present. Well, yes, they are, but they are also a good testing ground for Samsung's direction as a company, as the number of devices in circulation will be substantially less than Galaxy smartphones and the risk could be deemed as much lower.

What is Tizen?

Tizen is in many ways similar to Android. Built from the same, open-source model, it is clearly hoping to be considered an option for manufacturers who don't want to get involved with Google, for whatever reason.

READHands-on Samsung Gear 2 review

It's not the first OS to have a crack at this sort of device either. There are Firefox OS and Sailfish. And, to make the whole thing more confusing, there was Nokia's ill-fated, but quite well-loved MeeGo, which was ultimately disbanded for work to begin on Tizen but upon which Sailfish is based.

But when you boil it down, Tizen is very much like Android. It will have the same basis in a secure, stable operating system that is trusted by millions all over the world. And is, ultimately, a platform that can be developed for with some ease. As with Android, there is an SDK for Tizen, which will allow third-party app developers to make apps or reversion those from other platforms.

Tizen should be able to run Android apps

This is really the most important thing here. Despite being a new operating system, because of their shared Linux heritage, it should be possible to run Android apps on Tizen devices.

You might have heard of Linux, it runs a lot of stuff in similar fashion to other computer operating systems, such as Chrome and the likes of Ubuntu and Debian (the latter is the basis for SteamOS). But crucially, both Android and Tizen are based upon it. This does sort of matter, because it offers potential for Tizen to run Android apps. From what we can tell, this is possible and it has been claimed that Tizen has something called an "ACL" which means Application Compatibility Layer. Essentially, it allows Android apps to run on Tizen at the same speed as they would be on an Android device.

If this is true, then Samsung can simply help developers port their apps to its app store, and give itself an instant head-start with all that messy developer infrastructure. As Samsung curates its own app collection anyway, it seems likely that it would be able to flip a switch and make this happen almost straight away. Presumably, the terms and conditions for developers would have a provision for running on a new platform anyway, so no messy renegotiation.

Emphasis on HTML5

If you haven't heard of HTML5, don't panic, but just know that it's the force behind most of the dynamic websites you see online. Pocket-lint's design uses HTML5 to give you a nice browsing experience no matter on what sort of screen you're looking at us.

Tizen has an emphasis placed on this technology too, and while it's not a solution for every kind of app, it does allow for very simple programs that connect with existing websites. So if your app is taking content from your site, coding it in HTML5 is a solid way of producing a fast experience, with minimal hassle.

Services are key

We've seen with Nokia that it is possible for a company to divorce itself from the "Google" aspect of Android. What you do is base your OS on the Android Open Source Project. This, known as AOSP, is the stripped back, barebones version of Android that you see on some cheaper devices that don't have any Google mention in them at all. It was a little more common back in the early days of Android, but Amazon, for example, uses AOSP as the base of its Kindle Fire tablets.

What is different about AOSP products, is that they don't have access to any of the Google services. That's a big deal, because while on the surface it means no GMail app, it also means you miss out on the Google Play, Google Maps, Google Location services in general and a load of other stuff.

It's not a good OS to use unless you have the resources to build your own services. Which is why Nokia can do it, because it has its own location and mapping, and is more than happy to build up its own app store, as Amazon has done with the Kindle. For most apps, being ported is simple enough.

So this is what Samsung needs to do to get Tizen off the ground. It needs to build up services that will give customers access to the things they need from a phone. Samsung is actually in a fairly good place to do this, because it already has an app, music, movie and ebook store. And if you think about it, the decision to set these up says a lot about how Samsung views Android and the independence it wants.

Providing a mapping app should be no problem, Samsung can design its own and buy in mapping data and satellite images from another provider, it could even pay Google for Maps API access. Email, of course, is a minor problem and Samsung already has an accounts system that many users of its devices will have set up when they got their first "Galaxy" device.

What does the future hold?

It feels somewhat obvious to us that Tizen is being auditioned by Samsung. The firm has invested money in getting the OS up and running - as has Intel - so it stands to reason that it will expect to see that investment return some benefit.

READExploring Samsung's Tizen smartphone - A glance into the future

It might be that Tizen is the go-to low-cost operating system for devices that are aimed at areas where Google doesn't work well, or just isn't allowed. It might also work out cheaper for companies to use Tizen instead of Android.

On the flip-side, it could be that Samsung has such faith in the OS that it will switch all of its devices over to Tizen, abandoning Google, and offering its own platform. That might work for Samsung itself, but we can't see, say, LG going with Tizen, no matter how good it gets, and there's no way in hell it would allow a Samsung app store near its devices. Perhaps it could rebrand everything, but there are few advantages for other companies to do this when Android is working out so well for them.

Look at the Gear 2 and Gear Neo as a test. These are "low volume" sellers that are a nice way for Samsung to test developers, see how the public responds and get a feel for Tizen.

However you look at it, Google's reign in mobile was never going to be a permanent thing - most technology is very short-term, ask Nokia - so Samsung is lining up a potential successor. And, from what we've seen, if any OS stands a chance, it's Tizen.