Since Samsung is the largest Android handset maker in the world it is easy to overlook the fact that the Korean giant has its own smartphone operating system called Bada. Derived from the Korean word for “ocean” or “sea”, Bada runs on seven Samsung devices all from its “Wave” series. The top of the line model is the Wave 3 which has a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen with Corning Gorilla Glass, a 5MP camera and is powered by a 1.4GHz CPU. Not bad.

Following Samsung’s defeat in courts in its dispute with Apple, could Samsung be thinking about upping the development of its Bada OS to give the phone maker a plan B in case things with Android don’t work out the way it wants? According to comments made by Verizon’s CEO it is a real possibility. “There’s a potential elephant in the room with Samsung,” said CEO Lowell McAdam during an investor’s conference last week. He added that Samsung is a potential “dark horse” in the wireless industry.

His comments are thought to imply that Samsung has the money, technical know-how and the market share to push a smartphone OS to the forefront and compete with Apple and Google. Of course others have tried and are trying the same thing. Nokia abandoned its MeeGo operating system in favor of Windows Phone when it realized it didn’t have the resources to create a whole ecosystem on its own. Also, RIM is suffering financially for exactly the same reasons.

The modern smartphone market isn’t only about the OS, it is about the ecosystem (appstore, in-app purchasing, user feedback, social networking etc) and the non-app content (such as music, films and books). Apple and Google have well developed ecosystems and content. Amazon is doing an excellent job of providing an alternative Android ecosystem and Microsoft is… well… I don’t want to be rude.

The question is, can Samsung do the same? There is currently a Bada app store along with an SDK and a developers website. From a technical point of view Bada, has good potential. It already allows WebKit and Flash to be embedded inside native apps and it supports OpenGL as well as a rich set of interactive mapping APIs. Of course the challenge would be to get developers on board. If they want to cover the majority of users, app developers already need to support Android and iOS and so far they have been less than enthusiastic to whole heartily support Windows Phone or Blackberry 10. Adding another OS to that mix could prove futile.

“As bada is the one of major smartphone platform of Samsung, Samsung will roll out additional bada-based smartphones and continue to support bada developers in making and marketing high-quality applications. Samsung bada will rapidly be adopted by such customers this year,” says a statement on Samsung’s Bada website.

Here are some reasons why Samsung might want to push Bada more aggressively:

  1. It can control the hardware, software and ecosystem like Apple does. This means it will generate revenue from app and content sales which it currently doesn’t do with Android. This is the system which Amazon have adopted with its Kindle Fire range.
  2. If Android falls apart either due to fragmentation or due to more legal battles, Samsung could emerge as a leader of a potential Android alternative.
  3. Developing the OS and the hardware means it can introduce new features quicker.

However, there are some very good reasons for Samsung not to do this

  1. Android won’t fail.
  2. The legal battles between it and Apple can easy escalate into patent and copyright infringements for any OS that Samsung uses. Bada won’t be immune.
  3. Android won’t fail.
  4. Just getting Facebook, Twitter and a couple of big games onto a platform isn’t enough for its success. Developers need to come in their thousands.
  5. Android won’t fail.
  6. Apple’s spat with Samsung wasn’t about Android per se, but more about Samsung copying the style of Apple’s iPhone.
  7. Android won’t fail.
According to a Wall Street Journal article from September 2011, Samsung has considered making Bada open source 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.” In doing so it could gather the momentum it needs to become an alternative to Android. But just because an OS becomes open source it doesn’t mean it will win the hearts and minds of developers or consumers, just ask Nokia about MeeGo and Symbian.
What do you think? Should Samsung develop an alternative to Android? If it was open source would you consider switching? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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