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Wither Tizen phones? Samsung scales back software engineers in its mobile division

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After putting strong emphasis behind homegrown software development over the past few years, Samsung is moving a small portion of its software engineers away from the company’s mobile division.

Approximately 500 engineers are being transferred to the company’s other product lines such as televisions, printers and consumer electronics according to the Wall Street Journal. Samsung’s reason for the moves? In a statement, Samsung said the personnel change is “to enhance our competitive edge in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry and increase synergies for the Tizen platform,” which it has worked on since 2011.

Well, the last part of that comment is fairly interesting for a few reasons.

tizen

[company]Samsung[/company] has been working to release Tizen-powered phones for some time as a way to break away from the [company]Google[/company] Android platform that it and many of its competitors currently use. With a mobile platform of its own, Samsung could control both the hardware and software experience in a way that no Google hardware partner could.

Unfortunately, there is no Tizen phone. Last year, Samsung pushed back a Tizen phone release to 2014 and we’re nearing the end of the year with no Tizen phone in sight. The company does have Tizen-powered smartwatches and even switched the software on its first Galaxy Gear watch from Android to Tizen. But watches and phones are very different devices. And launching a new smartphone platform now is even more difficult than modernizing an existing one: See BlackBerry for evidence of that.

The reshuffling of software engineers follows not just the Tizen phone delay but also a weakening in Samsung’s overall phone sales: In July, the company warned of a drop in profits from the year ago quarter due to currency values and declining mobile sales.

Galaxy S5 copper

In light of smartphone sales that may have peaked and the challenge to get Tizen phones to market — with no guarantee of mass adoption — it sounds to me like Samsung is revising its Tizen strategy. Instead of running complex smartphones on the software, why not use it as a platform across other connected devices such as refrigerators, washing machines, security systems and televisions? Perhaps one that can use a Tizen-powered smartwatch for device communications, notifications and controls? These are the types of connected device scenarios we’ll be discussing at our Structure Connect event next month, in fact.

Spreading Tizen across devices and divisions seems the safer play to me and it certainly doesn’t rule out any parallel effort to get Tizen on a phone. With more than 40,000 software engineers at Samsung in 2013, moving 500 away from mobile phones isn’t likely going to impact the mobile division either way. Getting 500 more Tizen-saavy in other areas of the company though? That could be a smart move given the current smartphone situation.