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Bada - Samsung's strategy in the new market

Now that the news is all over the town that Samsung are launching their brand-new flagship based on a "novel" mobile platform Bada, we feel obligated to tell you more about what it really is and what role it plays in Samsung's plans. But first, let's start with a short preface.

In 2009 Samsung bet on the touch phone segment, as it was booming at the time. Fast-forward twelve months, they sold 40 million devices all over the world - Samsung have turned into one of the most active and aggressive players in this field, closely followed by LG that are implementing a similar strategy. Apple and Nokia enjoy comparable sales of touchscreen-enabled devices; however they are in the smartphone business, while Samsung's share is composed primarily of solutions based on their proprietary operating system. And that's an interesting fact, as the company allocates a lot of resources to various OS - Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, LiMo and several others. Needless to say no other phone maker is known for experimenting with this many platforms at the same time. In 2008-2009 Samsung tried to hop on the Symbian train by churning out Symbian-powered flagships one after another, however their efforts ended bore no fruit for the most part. Despite them being superior to Nokia-branded counterpart, their technological marvels just couldn't be converted into a bigger chunk of the market and extraordinary sales. The reason was that Samsung's brand wasn't potent enough in the smartphone playground. Essentially, having enormous ambitions, they were facing a cold welcome in the most cutting-edge areas of the market, that made all the difference when it came to the company's image. And that issue was something they had to mend as soon as possible. An interesting question is how a company's image influences its sales and in what segments. Without going into too much detail, I can say - its influence is immense. Furthermore, at some point it became absolutely essential for Samsung to have their brand associated with top-quality and innovative products not only in the areas where their position was historically strong, but in all other segments at the same time, including the smartphone market. The simple truth is that if one sets out to grab a bigger share of the global market, he needs to foray into every segment, regardless of its size.

That's why their strategy for the smartphone market was laid out in a different vein. In 2009 all roles were set in stone already. The stagnation of Windows Mobile, absence of strong players and newsworthy models, except for several narrow niches - all these factors served as perfect catalysts for Samsung's efforts in the WM market, as their products turned into major landmarks there. However both the volume of this market, and its future, appeared somewhat vague, and that's why having achieved great results, Samsung weren't going to leave the Windows Mobile market, but it wasn't among their top priorities either.

On the other hand, all attempts to secure their position on the Symbian smartphone market didn't have any success, and even a mobile powerhouse like the Samsung i8910 HD that was way ahead of its time and competition, didn't become any kind of milestone, even though sales-wise is was a decent performer. Due to this never-ending string of failures, or, let's put it this way, string of minor successes, Samsung started treating Symbian as an unviable segment for them. Plus Nokia's strategy of jamming Symbian down to the mid-tier jeopardized Samsung's plans - and so they refused to play right into their competition's hands.

Their foray into the Android market was more of an attempt to make sure they'd have a plan B: if this market started booming, they'd have been forced to offer a solid portfolio there one way or another. Samsung had been exercising this approach since forever, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that at that moment they didn't put much stock in Android.

That's how things stood for Samsung early in 2009 - they had to think up a way to secure their future and enter the smartphone market. And their plan was elegant - encouraged by the soaring sales of touchscreen-enabled phones, they decided to give birth to their new Cubic line-up, centered around the Samsung Jet. They took different operating systems and brought them together through one design cliche. In other words, consumers were given an illusion they could pick a smartphone that really appealead to them, although the Jet wasn't really a smartphone, but it had to look like one, surrounded by other models. In some ways this concept made sense, but they opted not to continue with it and abandoned that product line. Their new motto was - "smarter than a smartphone, faster than a smartphone".It accompanied the launch of the Samsung Jet in mid June 2009. By and large, that was a naive, yet still an interesting attempt to tout the idea that the very term "smartphone" was out of touch with time and wasn't really applicable to the vast majority of devices. In other words, they tried to build their campaign around the fact that were was no hard and fast definition of a "smartphone", while functionality-wise the Jet held an upper had against many "smartphones" out there. This approach got its fair share of attention, however the feedback from the press, consumers and Samsung's partners indicated that while it was possible to position one phone in this vein, it'd be extremely challenging to keep the audience thrilled about all future models. Consumers wanted to have smartphones, regardless of what stood behind the term. It was a buzz word, so Samsung had to pull themselves together and deliver a top-notch smartphone. And so they did.

Throughout the entire 2009 Samsung were working on the next generation of the Jet that had to be totally different from all its predecessors and literally come jam-packed with features, both in terms of hardware and software. Moreover, Samsung were still lagging behind other phone makers in the way of services, so that was another headache they had to do away with - in 2009 they released their own App Store, and in 2010 it'll become available on pretty much all phones. Several markets also saw release of Samsung's very own music store. Social networking capabilities, along with corresponding services got integrated into a good chunk of their offerings in 2009. And again, Samsung ran into the sad fact that they didn't have any smartphones.

If some device can do everything a smartphone can, works like one and in some departments even trumps it, then maybe it's a smartphone after all? Maybe. However, as their experience with the Jet had shown that wasn't quite enough - they had to make a statement that it was indeed a smartphone. And Samsung came up with a very smart move - they created a mobile platform, codenamed Bada, that debuted in late 2009. Many journalists mistakenly called it Samsung's Linux OS, even though there was not a trace of Linux in Bada. Not back then, not today. Maybe in 2011, but we'll get back to that in a moment.

You will never find any official document from Samsung tagging Bada as an operating system - they always refer to it as a mobile platform, and this fact is extremely important. Those who consider Bada to be an OS are pretty far from the truth. Because it really is a full-fledged mobile platform from Samsung. The only reason why there is so much confusion around Bada is that all other known operating systems also act as platforms at the same time. For example, Symbian is both an OS and a platform, since its entire ecosystem is centered around the OS. Same goes for iPhone OS and Android. Android can't exist without its development environment - codes written for Android are meant exclusively for use in Android-based systems. True, there are certain differences between its versions, but they are minor. The point I'm trying to make is that in the case of Samsung this last rule doesn't hold true. The SDK they are distributing doesn't offer developers to write pieces of code for some particular OS, but rather its lets them play around with certain functions (user interface, contacts, etc). In other words, this SDK isn't linked to the OS used in some device. Why so? The simple truth is that there can be several compatible operating systems, and Bada only ties them together. The beta version of the SDK allowed access only to a couple of system functions and TouchWiz 3D interface - that alone was enough for me to say that Bada was in fact a UI add-on. In the future this SDK will evolve enough to allow creating full-fledged applications dealing not only with the user interface, but also other features and functions without any interactions with the core OS. All in all, it's an exceedingly unusual and unique approach that even may seem bizarre at first.

But if you remember, Samsung was the first phone maker to use its TouchWiz user interface across a multitude of platforms and operating systems. It didn't matter what OS was inside - the important thing was that their users had the luxury of seeing the same interface everywhere, and associated it with Samsung. In a word, they have turned a simple user interface into a vital selling point.

Now let's extend this thought a little bit and apply it to Bada. Essentially, Samsung's mobile platform brings together this user interface and applications from third-party developers. In other words, Samsung gives them a universal tool to write applications for all Bada-based solutions, regardless of their OS. I suppose it's clear that this approach is vastly different from what other phone makers have been doing up until now, focusing on one single OS and platform. And that's exactly where Samsung's new advantage comes into play - they are free to target several OS, while treating them as parts of one platform. For example, the launch of Samsung-branded Linux phones in 2011 is merely another step in this direction. And I think you have already guessed how they will be touted. Although compared to the Samsung Wave S8500 (Lismore), they won't have anything in common in terms of software. In fact Samsung's main challenge at this moment is linking this second OS with their current SDK and making sure all applications are inter-compatible. That's what Samsung's strategic view of Bada is right now, but the good news is that it's flexible and may change, depending success or failures of the upcoming products. But I think there is an extremely high likelihood that events in 2010-2012 will be unfolding according to this exact scenario.

What are the advantages of this approach? On the one hand Samsung get the ability to make use of the strengths of their current solutions, without having to wait for Linux, or any other more potent OS, to become a part of their arsenal. Furthermore, by the time they add the second OS to the mix, the Bada Store will already boast a whole array of applications compatible with the new operating system, which will save Samsung the hassle of having to announce the launch of each new OS. While Symbian, Maemo and Android are centered around the idea of open-source development, Bada is different - it's open in the sense that third-party developers will be able to write their own applications, and that's about it, which is very similar to what Apple have been doing with their iPhone.

Will Bada ever become completely open? Definitely not, since it's not linked to any specific OS - it's a mobile platform that will make use of all OS it can reach, as well as services, depending on the company's current needs.

Short term perspective will see Bada's share skyrocket, and its positioning as a smartphone platform will "boost" Samsung's sales in this segment as well, solving the issue we touched upon at the beginning of this article. In 2010 alone they'll release around 6 Bada-based phones, while in 2011 there'll be many, many more of them. Also, the debut of the first Bada-enabled Linux device will probably take place in the second half of 2011 as well.

Wrapping it all up. The release of their very own mobile platform, Bada, is an elegant move on Samsung's part, that will help them increase their share in the global smartphone sales. It's a well thought out move - effectively, they've become the first company to introduce a cross-OS platform that ties application development not to a specific operating system, but rather their own UI and phone functionality. It's difficult not to give Samsung credit for creative thinking, as in the near future this flexibility will grant them the ability to launch new offerings faster than anyone else, ensure cross-OS compatibility of applications and so on. However all that hinges on the activity or lack thereof of third-party developers - if they don't bite, Bada's future will become quite vague, as it'll lose a handful of its potential advantages in an instant.

Related links:

Preview of GSM/UMTS-handset Samsung Wave (S8500)

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Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Published — 14 February 2010

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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