Samsung annouce Bada - a new mobile platform

Today Samsung announced that they are launching their own smart phone operating system called “Bada” (which is Korean for “ocean” apparently). No Android or Symbian for them, instead they have decided to go their own way with an ambitious new platform all of their own, and it is proprietary too (possibly an odd approach now?). When I heard about Samsung's plans I was curious so I went along to the launch event in London to find out more. There they outlined their vision for the platform and announced a developer competition but curiously did not show us any Bada handsets.

We were given a series of presentations, not just by senior Samsung staff but also by a supporting cast of partners: Twitter, Electronic Arts, Capcom and Blockbuster. Introducing Bada was Samsung's Dr Hosoo Lee, Executive Vice President and Head of the Media Solution Center. He outlined the ideas behind Badu. He highlighted factors such as cost, availability and usability being barriers in smart phone adoption. He could have a point here, currently you will have to pay a bit of a premium to get your hands on a smart phone, and some features (typically cameras) can be a bit of a disappointment. His vision was “smart phones for everyone” with an “ocean of opportunity” for consumers. This would be achieved with an easy to use platform with devices globally available at various price points. He also also added that Bada will have an “App Store” following in the footsteps of Apple, Google and Nokia. Developers would have a feature rich platform he promised as well.

I got the impression during the presentations that gaming would be a significant component of this new platform. Thomas Richter, Samsung's Director of Portfolio Management showed a video of a device playing “Resident Evil” and promised a “powerful and immersive” gaming platform. The important of gaming seemed backed up by the presence of representatives from Capcom and Electronic Arts. This is an interesting approach, the existing smart phone vendors have not really pushed their platforms as gaming platforms, Apple has had the occasional advert promoting their product's gaming abilities but it is not the first capability that comes to mind when thinking of these devices. Of course games were very popular on mobile devices in the days when Java reigned supreme as a mobile development platform so this could be a clever move. He went on to highlight other features such as location awareness and social network integration which are becoming more common on mobile devices now and a touch interface. The devices will have Adobe Flash built in, a feature many iPhone users have longed for.

The vision of “smartphones for everyone” is not an altruistic move though. Richter outlined some facts and figures that might make the platform interesting to a developer's business instincts. Samsung have already shipped forty million touch screen phones (and the implication was that this will continue). They are convinced that through such volumes they can become a major player in the smart phone market very quickly. Their application store will make it very easy for customers to part with money as it will support features such as in application purchases, charging against a phone bill or credit card and even allowing users who have not registered to make purchases. By the time the first Bada phone launches the store will be up and running in fifty countries. These factors, Richter stated, would make Bada a compelling business opportunity for developers. In a later presentation, Michel Guillemot President and CEO of Gameloft stated that games produced by his company had been downloaded one hundred million times to Samsung mobile phones.

For developers this will mean a new system to learn, but it was promised that the platform contains features that will make life a little easier, for example there will be a way to integrate with social networking sites with only a few lines of code. Coding will be done in C++, Flash or a web runtime. Samsung will offer a bit of gentle encouragement to developers to get involved in the form of developer days all over the world and a “developer challenge” where prizes can be won, and not small prizes. The prize pool announced for the competition is US $ 2,700,000 with a top prize of a useful US $300,000! You can find out more at; http://www.bada.com/developer/challenge/.

A hint of the future of Bada was give by Neil Davis, CIO of Blockbuster. He explained that his company is going through a process of changing from a bricks and mortar business to a “multichannel partner”. He saw he Bada phone as an “uber remote” describing a scenario where someone would rent a movie on their Samsung TV and then finish watching it on their mobile.

The first Bada phone will launch in the first half of 2010, and we were not shown any devices at the event. By this time Android devices will be getting cheaper too so it remains to be seen if Samsung have done the right thing in creating their own platform. I am sure many people will be surprised that they have not gone with Android and developers might greet this with a bit of a lack of enthusiasm seeing it as another platform to support and a further fragmentation of mobile market. That said, the mass consumer smart phone has still yet to arrive so there is all to play for and if Samsung manage to sell a large quantity of these phones it might become a platform that cannot be ignored. For now, I think the jury is definitely out on Bada.

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