The Tizen Project has considerable technical history on its side, as
it is the successor to the well-known Moblin, MeeGo, and
LiMo projects. Yet in a way that pedigree also works against it, as the project makes
its pitch to third-party application developers who have seen the aforementioned
predecessors come and go — sometimes first-hand.
At the first Tizen Developer Conference in San Francisco, the project
worked hard to establish its "developer story" — in particular
highlighting the broader support from industry players and the
stability of HTML5 and related open web specifications as a
In Tuesday's keynote sessions, Intel's Imad Sousou and Samsung's
J.D. Choi took a quick tour through the platform as exposed to
application developers (a detailed examination was reserved for the
break-out sessions); the project defines a Web API that
uses the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)'s packaging and configuration format, and "custom" APIs
for accessing contact data, NFC, Bluetooth, and other subsystems. They then
went deeper into three specific areas of the stack: security,
animation, and connection management.
The security framework is based
on Smack, which Sousou described as being preferable to other Linux
alternatives that required "setting up 8,000 policy
files." The platform also provides integrity protection by
checking application signatures at install time, and isolates each
application in its own process (although he did not go into specifics,
Sousou described the setup as less complicated than the
"draconian" measures taken by other platforms).
The animation framework is based on OpenGL ES and the Emotion scene
graph library provided by the Enlightenment Foundation Libraries (EFL),
LiMo's underlying application framework. Connection management is
handled by ConnMan, which Sousou announced had finally been declared
1.0. The project has worked on reducing ConnMan's overhead in the
past three years, specifically for mobile devices, where the typical
2-3 second DHCP configuration time is a deal-breaker for users. The
enhanced ConnMan now performs DHCP setup in milliseconds.
Several points in Sousou and Choi's talk about the architecture drew
contrasts with other mobile platforms — primarily Android and
the latest Blackberry offering. The point they made was that Tizen is
open to input on the design from anyone willing to join the project
and contribute — which is hardly the case, they suggested, for Android.
They also used their time to discuss the distinction
between the Tizen Project and the Tizen Association. The project is
the actual open source software project, which is led by a technical
steering group (headed by Sousou and Choi), and at this stage largely
developed by full-time employees from the two companies, plus smaller
partners. In contrast, the Tizen Association is the marketing group
that works to sell Tizen as a solution to OEM device makers, carriers,
third-party application vendors, and any other industry customers. In addition to marketing the project to industry players, though, the Association also attempts to gather their requirements for an OS platform.
The next keynote was presented by Kiyohito Nagata, chairman of the
Tizen Association. Nagata is also senior vice-president of NTT
Docomo, Japan's largest wireless carrier. He talked about Docomo's
research in user demands of smartphone devices, making the case that
Tizen offers carriers the flexibility to implement their own
application stores and custom services — across a range of
devices. Again, this aspect of Tizen was placed in contrast to
Nagata ended his talk by discussing the board membership of the Tizen
Association, which includes other large mobile phone carriers —
notably Orange, Telefónica, SK Telecom, and Sprint. Tizen is
marketing itself as a cross-device platform, serving in-vehicle
systems (IVI), set-top boxes, tablets, and smartphones. That list is
identical to MeeGo's target platforms, of course, but like MeeGo the
vast majority of the talk centered around handsets — including
the keynotes and the current work of the Tizen Association.
Buy-in from mobile carriers is a plus, but third-party applications
are what those carriers are interested in attracting in order to make
their plans appealing. Tizen's case as a development platform comes
down to its HTML5-based API, which was the subject of numerous
breakout sessions at the conference: from the overall API to specific
components (e.g., graphics, I/O, NFC, and Bluetooth).
Intel's Sakari Poussa and Samsung's Taehee Lee led a breakout session that covered the overall Web API suite. As we covered
when we looked at the SDK in January, a significant chunk of the Web API is drawn
from existing work spearheaded by the W3C. But there are other APIs,
some exploring ways to expose mobile device functionality to web
applications (for example, the ability to lock the screen rotation
into landscape mode, which is reportedly of interest to game
developers), others defining new general-purpose functionality like mapping-and-routing. The Tizen APIs also cover system-maintenance tasks, such as application installation, update and removal, and creating and
managing user accounts for online services.
The bigger news, however, was Sousou's announcement that the Tizen
project is working with the W3C to develop these "missing piece" APIs
into general standards. The project wants them to be standard APIs,
not "Tizen APIs," he said. In particular, Tizen is part
of the W3C's new Core Mobile Web Platform Group, and
Tizen is committed to adhering to the standard, whatever decisions the
working group makes.
Of course, standards are just words, and many developers have
heard the "write once, run anywhere" song multiple times. The "Advanced HTML5 Features" session dealt with that
question specifically, arguing that the web has always been a
fragmented platform, but that web development has evolved to cope with
varying implementation details on desktop browsers, and has done so
better than most other development platforms.
If that seems like a mild assurance, Facebook's head of mobile
developer relations James Pearce was on hand to offer a more concrete
testing tool, the company's new compliance tester RingMark. RingMark defines three levels (or
to be more precise, "rings") of compatibility: Ring 0 covers the
status quo of existing W3C device APIs, Ring 1 covers
"aspirational" extensions to Ring 0, including
audio/video and other high-performance tasks that are currently the
domain of native APIs on most platforms. Ring 2 covers the
still-in-development suite of web APIs for the future, such as WebGL.
Attendees in several of the sessions I sat in on expressed interest in
Tizen's compliance program. Although Tizen so far has no formal
compliance plan, it was made clear that compliance will be assessed
based on a product's adherence to the API. That makes for a stark
contrast against MeeGo, which demanded specific versions of specific
libraries and Linux system components — a requirements set that
ultimately proved too arduous for even MeeGo co-founder Nokia to pass
with its N9 phone.
The project, then, is making its case as an HTML5-based development
There were a handful of companies present who are already developing applications on Tizen. Cell phone carrier Orange was among them, and presented a session on its experiences. The team from Orange has deployed HTML5 applications for news, movie ticket offers, and streaming TV, and has built enhanced user-information tools, integrating items like data and SMS counters into the phone UI.
Tizen's community manager Dawn Foster dealt with the outreach question in her state-of-the-community talk on Tuesday. In brief, the Tizen community at the moment is small; considerably smaller than the MeeGo community was, with fewer volunteer contributors joining the paid developers from Intel and Samsung. But that is to be expected, she said, primarily because it is hard to build excitement about a platform before consumer devices are available. On that front, she added, Tizen is
trying to take a different approach, by underplaying the hype of the platform and "letting the code lead." Likewise, while MeeGo established a complicated working group structure at the outset, well before any code was delivered, Tizen's project structure is intentionally loose at this stage.
Perhaps that "release-first" strategy will also help deal with the other hurdle facing Tizen, developer burnout among veterans of the earlier projects in Tizen's lineage. Fundamentally, burnout with platform-switching may be one of the reasons Tizen is pressing so hard on the HTML5 front at the moment. Whatever else developers may think of HTML5, it is at least a platform-neutral approach to application development. The keynotes talked of more options still-to-come
in the Tizen 2.0 release currently scheduled for the end of 2012 — for example, the Emotion animation framework mentioned by Choi. But at least for now, HTML5 and the web APIs remain the sole story for application developers.
Intel and Samsung are both ramping up their outreach to those
developers. Intel is running an application developer contest, while
Samsung distributed mobile developer devices to registered attendees.
Foster also highlighted two tools to develop HTML5 applications that are
designed to be lighter-weight than the full Tizen SDK: the Rapid Interface
Builder (RIB) and Web
Simulator. The contest runs until August — which is plenty of
time for developers to explore the code base. As of May 9, however, there
had still not been any consumer device announcements.
It is understandable that independent developers might be wary of Tizen given how recently they were being told about MeeGo. Ultimately no trick can undo that wariness; the only remedy will be to see the project grow in its own right and earn its own place. There are some key differences already — fairly or not, MeeGo was always perceived largely as a Nokia-only party without much connection to the all-important phone carrier industry, while Tizen has a longer list of mobile partners on board. MeeGo also presented potential contributors with a top-heavy compliance process and byzantine project structure, all well before there was any code to examine. With Tizen, however a developer feels about the commercial parties behind the scenes, there is code to see, and an API that exists outside the project itself; both of which are in the "plus" column.
[ The author would like to thank the Tizen
project and the Linux Foundation for support to attend the conference. ]
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