Samsung to Open Bada to External Developers

SEOUL—Samsung Electronics Co. plans to open up its homegrown mobile software platform to outside developers and device makers next year in a bid to kick-start growth in the operating system and reduce its reliance on Google Inc.’s Android in the increasingly litigious smartphone and tablet computer business.

Samsung “is planning to make Bada software an open source platform next year,” a person familiar with the situation said, adding the South Korean company has no plans to buy a software company

The move comes after Google announced in August it plans to purchase competitor Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. for $12.5 billion. Analysts have speculated that the Motorola deal could see handset makers that use Google’s open-source Android lag behind Motorola in securing technology support from Google in the longer term. There has also been market speculation that Samsung is seeking to buy an operating system owned by rivals.

The move is also targeted at turning Samsung’s Bada software into a widely used platform for so-called smart TVs, which incorporate advanced functions such as on-demand streaming into flat-screen displays. Google launched its own such platform, Google TV, last year.

A Samsung S II, right and Samsung Ace, left. The company is planning to make its Bada software an open-source platform next year, in an effort to reduce its dependence on Google’s Android system.

Opening up Bada is aimed at keeping up Samsung’s strong growth momentum in high-end mobile devices. The Korean company was the second-largest smartphone vendor in the second quarter after Apple Inc. by shipments, overtaking long-time leader Nokia Corp., according to researcher Strategy Analytics. Its mobile business started to take off shortly after its Galaxy smartphone hit the market in June 2010.

That momentum has recently come under threat from Apple, which has taken aim at Samsung’s smartphones and tablet PCs with world-wide legal action seeking sales bans based on Apple’s allegations that Samsung copied its designs. In return, Samsung has launched countersuits against Apple, responding that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company violated wireless-technology patents held by Samsung.

Samsung, the world’s largest technology company by revenue, is traditionally strongest in hardware development. By opening the Bada platform to external developers, Samsung is taking a similar route as Google, which allows software engineers outside the company to adapt and modify the source code for Android for free.

Samsung launched Bada in late 2009 and the platform is used on the company’s cheaper smartphones in Europe and emerging markets. The company doesn’t disclose sales figures for Bada and Android-based phones. According to market research firm Gartner, Bada was on 1.9% of smartphones sold in the second quarter, with just over two million units sold, while Android had a 43.4% market share, with 46.8 million units sold.

Other global handset makers such as Nokia have had challenges in growing the market for their own operating systems. Nokia, which sells phones using its Symbian operating software, opted to partner with Microsoft Corp. this year to make phones using the U.S. company’s Windows software.

Analysts say Samsung has to increase support for alternative platforms in the high-end smartphone and tablet markets, at least in the short term, to lighten its heavy reliance on Android. Last week, Samsung unveiled its 11.6-inch tablet device powered by a new version of Microsoft’s Windows software.

“Hardware vendor-controlled platforms that move from closed to open do not have a great track record in the past. Nokia failed dismally with Symbian, for example,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

“For Samsung to be successful with opening Bada it will need to be launched in the United States market, because that is where the most powerful developers and consumers are found. If Bada does not get traction in the huge U.S. market, then the odds will be stacked against success,” he said.

It’s also unclear whether the strategy to push Bada as a global standard for advanced TVs will work. Unlike in the mobile industry, there are no dominant software platforms for smart TVs, which remain a high-end niche product.

“In theory, it makes sense to turn Bada into a multiplatform operating system because that will increase the total addressable market for service developers. But in reality, it is not yet fully clear whether Bada can scale up to bigger displays. For example, can the OS cope with the greater number of pixels in a large display?” Mr. Mawston said.

Samsung, the world’s largest maker of flat-screen televisions, sells a range of smart TVs running on an in-house operating system. There is no industrywide consensus of what makes a smart TV, but Samsung defines it as having built-in computer-style processors and a software platform so custom-made applications can run on the TV in the same way as they do on computers and smartphones. Samsung this year said it aims to sell a total of 45 million flat-screen TVs in 2011, with 12 million of that total targeted to be smart TVs.

Google partnered with Sony Corp. and Logitech International SA last year to launch a TV that lets users access the Internet and search for live television listings from their TV sets, but the device’s high price tag and the complicated interface have weighed on sales.