While Samsung readies a possible launch of two smartphones powered by its own Tizen operating system, the big question some investors may be asking is whether the company is ready to take on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) in the mobile OS space.
The answer, at least for now, is a resounding a no. No way.
The difficulty of diversification
A recent report by The Wall Street Journal says Samsung is prepping an unveiling event in the coming weeks for a new Tizen-powered smartphone in Russia. The article also mentioned another Tizen phone is slated for an India release soon.
If Samsung launches the phones, they would be the first of their kind and would directly compete against Apple's and Google's mobile operating systems. But that doesn't necessarily mean Samsung wants to take them on, at least not in the U.S. Right now, Android holds 52% of the U.S. market while iOS takes 41%.
But in Russia and India, there's much more opportunity. Samsung is betting that its clout as the No. 2 phone maker in the country can help make Tizen smartphones a reality. And in India, where smartphone adoption is still in its infancy, Samsung could benefit from introducing the OS to a large group of people who are loyal to neither iOS nor Android.
But bringing Tizen to market has more do with Google tightening its grip on Android than it does with Samsung wanting to take on Google and Apple.
Samsung's forging its own path
Over the past several years, Google has slowly made it harder for phone makers to modify Android exactly how they want. The latest changes came in January as Google put pressure on Samsung to drop some of its brand-specific apps and use Google's apps instead. Re/code reported that after Samsung released its Magazine UX interface on the Galaxy Tablet, Google began talking with Samsung to rein in Samsung's Android customization.
While Samsung is complying with Google's requirements, you can think of Tizen as a long-term backup plan. So far, Samsung has been slow to roll out Tizen smartphones, but has included the OS in its Gear 2 smartwatch and some of its digital cameras. Launching the OS in India and Russia gives Samsung the chance to test out Tizen on smartphones without directly stepping on Google's toes or betting everything on the OS.
Right now, I don't think Samsung is anywhere near launching Tizen in the U.S. or any other major markets. Android has proven to be a very capable and lucrative platform for Samung, and changing that right now would be a huge mistake.
Though Samsung may want to make Tizen its go-to OS in the future, trying to take on Apple's iOS all by itself could prove fatal at the moment. If reports are true that Apple is close to launching a larger iPhone, or two, then Samsung needs Android more than ever. The similarities between Samsung's and Apple's flagship devices will be stronger than ever and Samsung can't afford to do anything that could push away its user base.
It's not as if Samsung doesn't want to move away from Android, but the company is trying to slowly figure out how to do it without diminishing its smartphone sales or influence in the market. And that could take very long time to get right.
Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Google (A and C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.