Samsung is building a platform without an OS

Jos

TS Evangelist

For the last 20+ years, the traditional thinking in the tech industry has been that in order to have any real power and influence, you had to have an operating system. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have turned their OS offerings into platforms, which could then be leveraged to provide additional revenue-generating services, as well as drive the direction and application agenda for other companies who wanted to access the users of a particular OS.

In an effort to follow that strategy, we’ve witnessed a number of companies try, unsuccessfully, to reach a position of power and control in the tech industry by building or buying operating systems of their own. From Blackberry, to HP and LG (with WebOS), to Samsung (with Tizen), there have been numerous efforts to try to replicate that OS-to-platform strategy.

Over the last year or so, however, we’ve begun to see the rise of platforms that are built to be independent from an OS. Prominent among these are Amazon, with Alexa, Facebook with, well, Facebook, and most recently, Samsung with a whole set of services that, while initially focused on their hardware, actually reflect a more holistic view of a multi-connection, multi-device world.

Interestingly, even many of the traditional OS vendors are starting to spend more time focusing on these “metaplatform” strategies, as they recognize that the value of an OS-only platform is quickly diminishing. Each of the major OS vendors, for example, is placing increased emphasis on their voice-based assistants—most of which are available across multiple traditional OS boundaries—and treating them more like the OS-based platforms of old.

Moving forward, I suspect we will see more machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)-based services that may connect to the voice-based assistants or the traditional OS’s, but will actually be independent of them. From intelligent chatbots, that enable automated tech support, to sales and other common services, through smart news and media-delivery applications, these AI-based services are going to open up a sea of new opportunities for these “new” platform players.

Another key new service will likely be built around authentication and digital identity capabilities. This will serve not only as a first log-in of the day, but function as an identity gateway through e-commerce, online banking, secure communications, and many other key services that require verification and authentication of one’s identity.

While some OS-independent platform strategies have been known for some time, the recent Samsung S8 launch event unveiled the first real glimpse of what Samsung may have in mind going forward.

While some of these OS-independent platform strategies have been known for some time, the recent Samsung S8 launch event unveiled the first real glimpse of what Samsung may have in mind going forward. Because of the company’s extensive range of not only consumer tech products, such as smartphones, tablets, wearables and PCs, but also TVs and other consumer electronics, along with white goods like connected appliances, Samsung is uniquely positioned to deliver the most comprehensive connected hardware (and connected home) story of almost any company in the world. In fact, with the recent purchase of Harman—a major automotive component supplier—they can even start to extend their reach into connected cars.

To date, the company hasn’t really leveraged this potential position of power, but it looks like they’re finally starting to do so. Samsung Pass, for example, moves beyond the simple (though critical) capability of digital payments offered in Samsung Pay, to a complete multi-factor biometric-capable identity and vertification solution. Best of all, it appears to be compatible with the FIDO Alliance standard for the passing of identity credentials between devices and across web services, which is going to be a critical capability moving forward.

On a more concrete level, the Bixby Assistant on the S8, of course, provides the kind of voice-based assistant mentioned previously, but it also potentially ties in with other Samsung hardware. So, for example, you will eventually be able to tell Bixby on your Samsung phone to control other Samsung-branded devices or, through their new Samsung Connect Home or other SmartThings hub device, other non-Samsung devices. While other companies do offer similar types of smart home hubs, none have the brand reach nor the installed base of branded devices that Samsung does.

As with any single-branded effort to dominate in the tech world, Samsung can’t possibly make a significant impact without reaching out proactively to other potential partners (and even competitors) on the device side in order to make its connected device platform viable. Still, because of its enormous footprint across so many aspects of households around the world, Samsung now possesses a bigger potential to become a disruptor in the platform war than its earlier OS-based efforts with Tizen might have suggested.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm. You can follow him on Twitter . This article was originally published on Tech.pinions.

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Greg S

TS Evangelist
I was actually kind of hoping for a Galaxy phone and tablet that would come without an OS installed after reading the title. It'd be nice to be able to easily install any android rom or even Windows 10 on a tablet/phone for dual boot purposes.

Well written article though that does raise some good points.
 

psycros

TS Evangelist
"As with any single-branded effort to dominate in the tech world, Samsung can’t possibly make a significant impact without reaching out proactively to other potential partners (and even competitors) on the device side in order to make its connected device platform viable."

This is the real takeaway. Hardware makers spent the 90's trying to lure consumers into a semi-proprietary collection of multimedia components by making it a requirement to unlock a full feature set. It never really worked. If the Samsungs of the world want people to sign onto their service ecosystems (which themselves leverage *other* ecosystems) they'll all need to be playing in a common sandbox. This does make me worry about a resurgence of "framing" or "portaling", that awful trend that dominated the web in the late 90's and early 2000's where everyone was trying to funnel your web experience through locally installed browser windows laden with spyware/adware. Just mention "Realplayer" or "Yahoo Toolbar" to an old-timer and watch them flinch. I suspect that "Chrome" will evoke the same response a decade from now.
 
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Kibaruk

TechSpot Paladin
But... they kind of throw in Alexa and Facebook as examples, while they are closing down on the platforms, being this with or without OS restrictions.

Imagine all of them working on one platform for Digital Assistant, no more Siri, or Google Now, or Alexa, or whatnot. I can assure you, word recognition and offline assistants would be ten years ahead than what they are now.

There are recipes to good software, and they are kind of following a couple, but still lacking where it's important. Some decisions are based on the software that comes with the device, others rely on the hardware. They should all rely on hardware.
 
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VitalyT

Russ-Puss
I welcome the idea of fully custom platforms, as it closes opportunities for hackers getting into all the phones at once, and for malware, bloatware and all crapware installations.
 

Reehahs

TS Guru
The cloud is a step-forward in reducing the dependence on OS just like how the internet was reducing our dependence on books and printed encyclopedias for knowledge. The best OS is the one that is invisible to the user until the user requires it, like BIOS.
 

merikafyeah

TS Addict
Too bad only Intel, AMD, and VIA can make X86 CPUs. A better strategy Microsoft could've taken (and not too late to start now) is to simply make a "phone" program which runs on top of regular Windows which is installed on X86 phones just like you would install Windows on PCs. The phone program would run like any other program with the key difference being that this phone program has a UI designed to fit within a typical phone sized screen, I.e. if you were to run this phone program on a regular PC monitor, all the buttons and elements would be huge, as if your monitor was a giant phone screen. On startup the user could enter a custom X and Y axis to determine the screen borders and the program would automatically scale its interface based on the detected pixel resolution using DPI calculations.

The benefits to this approach are so numerous it's baffling why MS hasn't already done it.

1. Developing a program is waaaaay easier and faster than making a custom operating system. Just use the mature OS you already have (Windows).

2. Because it's just a program that runs on top of an OS, you don't have to worry about the underlying hardware as much since the OS will handle drivers and memory management and the like. Your phone program developer team can just focus on the application UI and core functionality.

3. Naturally the core functionality of a phone program would be to make calls, SMS, taking pictures, etc, but current Android and iOS platforms have an app ecosystem which extends the functionality of a phone. This can also be accomplished with the phone program via plugins. Very similar to browser extensions. Right off the bat you'll also have virtually the entire Android ecosystem as well since Android emulation on X86 hardware is fairly trivial.

4. It will be inherently more secure than both Android and iOS since attacking a program is far more difficult than attacking an OS. For example, attacking Word is much harder than attacking Windows, since your attack vectors are limited to document types which Word will recognize, just like how malware inside JPEGs can only affect vulnerable web browsers or specifically targetted image viewing programs.

5. "Continuum" would be an instant reality, since your phone would literally be a mini X86 PC. Just connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor via USB Type-C dock or what have you, and BOOM you have a regular desktop PC (albeit smaller). Literally that simple. A full "real work" PC in your pocket, the dream made real.

I don't see any real downsides to this, as cramming a decent X86 CPU into the space of a smartphone is totally within reach today. Microsoft really needs to abandon the Windows Mobile OS and convert the entire Mobile OS team in the Phone Application team, tasked with developing and managing this single application. It would be no different than the teams assigned to Edge browser development, or MS Office development etc. It could easily mesh with the existing Microsoft ecosystem with little to no friction. The problem is Nadella doesn't seem to have vision.
 

gamerk2

TS Maniac
I don't see any real downsides to this, as cramming a decent X86 CPU into the space of a smartphone is totally within reach today.
The problem with mobile x86, is that x86 was not designed as a mobile processor. There's a LOT of overhead in the architecture that simply makes x86 non-competitive in terms of both price and power consumption compared to ARM. Intel spent tens of Billions to try and shrink x86 down to work in the mobile space, and this never really worked out; performance was there, price and power wasn't.

Nevermind the obvious downside of software support; only Windows mobile has any software for the x86 architecture in the mobile space, and there aren't enough users to support three separate non-compatible OS's. And with Android/iOS already entrenched, it's a near certainty any x86 based mobile OS won't be able to make any significant inroads. Just like x86 is entrenched in the desktop market due to legacy program support, so is ARM entrenched in the mobile market.
 

merikafyeah

TS Addict
I don't see any real downsides to this, as cramming a decent X86 CPU into the space of a smartphone is totally within reach today.
The problem with mobile x86, is that x86 was not designed as a mobile processor. There's a LOT of overhead in the architecture that simply makes x86 non-competitive in terms of both price and power consumption compared to ARM. Intel spent tens of Billions to try and shrink x86 down to work in the mobile space, and this never really worked out; performance was there, price and power wasn't.

Nevermind the obvious downside of software support; only Windows mobile has any software for the x86 architecture in the mobile space, and there aren't enough users to support three separate non-compatible OS's. And with Android/iOS already entrenched, it's a near certainty any x86 based mobile OS won't be able to make any significant inroads. Just like x86 is entrenched in the desktop market due to legacy program support, so is ARM entrenched in the mobile market.
X86 didn't take off because Windows Mobile OS didn't take off, and Microsoft-branded Nokia was the only prominent hardware player in the game. From a purely technical standpoint Intel's latest and most efficient X86 architectures should be able to compete with ARM. X86 power consumption was competitive back in 2012 and advances in the last 5 years for X86 are noteable: https://gigaom.com/2012/04/25/intels-smartphone-the-x86-power-myth-is-finally-busted/
And this: http://www.pcworld.com/article/3174751/mobile/intel-isnt-yet-done-with-x86-smartphone-chips.html

As for software support I've already addressed that in my 3rd point. I think you missed the point of my entire post. It isn't about Windows Mobile OS (which should be abandoned), but a hypothetical "phone program" which would run on top of regular Windows, the same Windows that is currently on PCs (though perhaps moderately customized to be lighter). This was what I was referring to when I said "no downsides". The Windows Mobile OS approach is DOA.

My proposal would have virtually the entire Android ecosystem IN ADDITION to the entire X86 software ecosystem in one device that fits in your pocket, as per my 5th point. This would be Microsoft's biggest selling point which would have people flocking to it, but again, Nadella has no vision.