Samsung's Tizen Z1 smartphone is a crucial test for the company

Yesterday in India, Samsung launched its first Tizen-based smartphone the Z1, a launch that was much awaited. For the company this is a crucial launch.


Yesterday in India, Samsung launched its first Tizen-based smartphone the Z1. It was clear from the event that for Samsung the public response to a Tizen-smartphone is crucial, given the way the company's officials interacted with the press. A huge posse of Koreans went around asking the media members what they thought of the phone and if there was a way to improve the package.

For Samsung, this is the second attempt to make its own OS; the first Bada OS never really took off like the Android devices from the company. They desperately want Tizen to avoid the same fate.

As far as the Indian smartphone market goes, it is booming. IDC numbers noted that in the July-September quarter of 2014, India shipped over 23.3 million smartphones, a year-on-year growth of 82 percent, while it also shipped over 49.2 million feature phones which saw a year-on-year negative growth of 9 percent. The share of smartphones in the overall Indian mobile phone market stood at 32 percent in Q3 2014. Numbers that also show that close to 68 percent of India's mobile phone buyers are still going for feature phones.

As far as vendors go, Samsung is still on top with 24 percent smartphone market share but second place Micromax is not far behind with 20 percent market share. Interestingly in the overall market (which includes both feature and smartphones) Samsung's share is at 16 percent while Micromax is just two percentage points behind at 14 percent.

From budget phones to mid-budget devices to premium devices, it's quite a mature market at least in terms of choice where the experienced smartphone user is concerned. But the number of first-time smartphone users will be huge in India.

Given that the Z1 is priced at Rs 5700 and has basic features, it is clearly a budget smartphone aimed at these first-time smartphone buyers; those consumers switching from their old feature phone to a smartphone. Perhaps the middle-class school student who's getting his/her first smartphone and the parents don't want to spend too much or maybe someone who has saved up for a smartphone and wants to ditch their feature phone for a better device. And the South-Korean tech giant is hoping that these users will choose Tizen, not Android.

For a price of Rs 5700, it actually sounds like a great deal for a Samsung device. As far as specs go, the Z1 has a 4-inch WVGA PLS screen, 4 GB storage space expandable to 32 GB via microSD card, 768 MB RAM, 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, a 3.1 megapixel camera and a VGA front camera.

While a dual-core processor and less than 1GB RAM might not sound great, there's no denying that Tizen as an OS is quite fast-- with little lag when you're switching between apps.  Also, what works with Tizen and Z1 is that it looks like a typical Samsung, Android phone.

Sure, that might sound boring to the seasoned smartphone buyer, but to a first-time buyer, this actually seems great. It's not Android, but it isn't difficult to use, which is what many might want. Essentially they're getting a device that has a front camera, a back camera, Facebook, WhatsApp (not official apps) and it comes from a big brand.

Also unlike Google's Android, which requires a Gmail account to sign in when you set up the smartphone (for access to the PlayStore etc), this doesn't necessarily need one. That's a good thing because some there will be first-time smartphone buyers who don't have a Gmail account in the first place and won't be keen to set one up.

But Tizen has its drawbacks as well. For starters it's the lack of apps, something that has delayed the launch of Tizen phones for quite a while now. In fact, as this Wall Street Journal report pointed out previous Tizen-phone launches in Japan, Russia and France failed because partners backed out at the last moment.

Currently the phone will support Android apps, but users will have download OpenMobile’s app compatibility layer to run them. Again not many first-time users will know how this works or even be comfortable doing this.

Also where specs go, Z1 doesn't stand out from the competition. Xiaomi (Redmi 1S), Asus (Zenfone 4), are just some of the competitors offering devices with better features in the same price range or perhaps for a couple of hundred rupees more.

Then, of course, for now this is the only smartphone we've seen from Tizen. Sure there have been smartwatches from Samsung running Tizen, but that market is yet to boom in India. In fact as Kiranjeet Kaur, an analyst at research firm IDC, told Reuters, "It has been really tough for any other operating system to position itself against iOS or Android ... So for Tizen to succeed, it will need to bring a very compelling proposition to the market."

Whether or not the consumers find, Z1 good enough remains to be seen. But for now it appears that by going with a low-budget smartphone for Tizen first, Samsung testing the waters to see whether Tizen can even challenge the Android tide in the first place.

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