Samsung Bada: Platform or OS?

Samsung is a big player in the mobile market with (smart)phones operating on multiple mobile platforms. The success with Android-based smartphones does not prevent Samsung from benefiting from its own proprietary open mobile platform i.e. bada. Samsung announced bada towards the end of 2009. New mobile platforms do not appear every day, but 2009 was a busy year for the smartphone market, and most attention of global media was given to iPhone and Android. However, some buzz started to generate when the first bada phone, the Samsung Wave, was shown at Mobile World Congress in February 2010. The bada SDK became publicly available in May 2010. Samsung markets bada with the help of a global developer contest for bada applications, with a prize pool of more than $2.7 million USD, and a Grand Prize of $300,000.

After the first announcement of bada, a lot of debates have been going on whether this is a full-scale operating system or a closed platform with extended functionality. In what follows I will try to give some clear answers to this question.

First, we need to see why this platform is at all interesting. Chances are pretty good that you have never seen a phone powered by bada. Don’t feel too bad; iOS and Android are obvious market leaders, but Samsung keeps working steadily on the bada promotion. In some countries, bada smartphones are selling quite well. Samsung expects to sell over 5 million bada handsets by the end of 2010, and they are looking forward to selling another 10 million in the first half of 2011. It is not 300 thousand units per day, but it is in fact not too bad for a platform of one manufacturer, sold in few countries, on but a single device (so far.)

Most of the other mobile phone manufacturers (except Nokia) are making Android devices, and they have all increased both the sales and the share of Android smartphones during 2009. With their reports being not so happy about the results of the economic downturn and Apple’s 30% of the profit from the market, the low costs of Android adoption have proven very attractive. However, the whole bada business proves that Samsung’s executives know what they are doing. When everybody produces similar devices that are getting cheaper and cheaper (yes, I am talking about Android), the profit margin goes down as well. Samsung is trying to lower risks and raise margins by going in the footsteps of Apple and to some extent RIM by running a niche platform but at least it is their niche.

The somewhat official reasons for the new platform were the following. On the one hand, Samsung has very good cooperation ties with various mobile services operators, many of which are not particularly satisfied with Apple and Nokia, with a need for a flexible, easy-to-customize platform for their own services. As you know, the phones of the European mobile operators are often “tailored” for a particular operator, up to an original interface and menu. Not every platform can be customized this way. On the other hand, Samsung produces devices on various platforms, and to be able to offer their clients the maximum of functional possibilities, it is better to own an OS (platform).

Now let us get back to the question in the title. Whether bada is a platform or an OS. The answer depends on the way you define what OS is. For Samsung themselves, operation system is a system with its own kernel, i.e. device layer and user interface.

There are only two full operating systems in the mobile market: Symbian and Windows Mobile (Windows Phone 7). Another category is of systems with a third-party kernel, for example, that of Linux (or other realtime OS: Nucleus, REX, etc.) and own device layer and user interface. The latter category includes Android as well as Maemo and bada itself. This sort of structure has obvious advantages because it allows applying various hardware architectures with similar results for end consumers.

As far as end-users are concerned, they all love multi-tasking, unrestricted possibilities to install applications as well as an app store – all features of a consumer-oriented smartphone OS are present in bada. To say nothing about the access of the third-party applications to the whole phone functionality, including calls, SMS, and much more. In theory, this enables to create applications that can substitute standard integrated instruments of the platform with a significantly increased functionality.

Just recently Samsung announced new bada 2.0 that will feature the following functionality

– New UI
– NFC (Near Field Communications), which is basically an M-Commerce feature.
– HTML5 support with a feature described as “Web Application Frameworkâ€
– FlashLite 4 (limited Adobe Flash support)
– Software Development Kit for Mac and Linux
– Multitasking
– Push notification support
– Carrier billing support

Hopefully, all bada devices will be able to update to bada 2.0.

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