Why Samsung’s Bada Could Win Big

I was trying to absorb as much information as possible from Tomi Ahonen’s third-quarter update on the smartphone space when I came across this little nugget: Samsung’s Bada claimed 1.3 million users, or 2 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, during the period.

“Yes, it’s true,” Ahonen writes, “Bada’s first 4 months have been even more successful than Android’s first four months.”

It’s tempting to overstate Bada’s quick growth — 2 percent is just 2 percent, after all — but that kind of uptake is especially impressive given the OS platform’s limited worldwide presence. Bada only launched on June 1 on a single handset (the Samsung Wave S8500; a second supporting device was released a few weeks ago), and it has absolutely zero support from U.S. carriers. These are factors that have surely inhibited growth so far, but could nonetheless change quickly. I think Bada can continue to pick up steam and become a major player in the worldwide mobile market because of a few key factors:

Samsung boasts a huge global footprint. The Korean firm is the fourth-largest handset manufacturer in the world, selling 7.9 million units in the third quarter, according to Ahonen. This puts it ahead of HTC. And while Samsung makes phones for multiple platforms — including Android and Windows Phone 7 — it may increasingly focus on churning out Bada phones as the OS gains momentum.

There’s room for competition. The smartphone space is crowded, to be sure, but take a quick look at the mobile platforms that claim more market share than Bada. While Android and Apple’s iOS are thriving, Windows Mobile (3 percent) has been abandoned by Microsoft, the aging BlackBerry OS (16 percent) is losing ground and Symbian (36 percent) is stumbling through its golden years. So in the near future, many users will be shopping for new handsets that run other platforms. Meanwhile, the only other new mobile OS that could threaten the incumbents is Windows Phone 7, and that has yet to catch fire.

Android is becoming increasingly fragmented. Like my colleague Ryan Kim wrote, it seems we’ll soon be living in Android’s world. But as the creators of Angry Birds noted last week, the disparity between high-end Android devices and older (or cheaper) handsets can force  app developers to build separate, lightweight versions of their wares for lesser-powered gadgets. And as Deutsche Bank’s Jonathan Goldberg wrote in a research note last week, “Android has considerable momentum already, fragmentation does not appear to be putting a dent in that, but we think it leaves open ample room for operating systems targeting users who want a more consistent experience.”

Developers are in the fold. Bada already has support from key developers like EA, Capcom and Gameloft, and in August Samsung released version 1.0 of its software development kit (SDK). What’s more, the company is hoping to spur development by giving away $2.7 million in prizes in a developers challenge and by hosting a developer day in Seoul next month. And yes, Samsung has launched an app store to support the platform.

    Samsung has some serious challenges to overcome if Bada is to break through and become a major mobile OS, obviously. It will have to work collaboratively with carriers, who still hold the key to moving handsets off the shelves. It will have to spend huge amounts marketing Bada to users who are already overwhelmed by a wide variety of choices. And it will have to iron out the wrinkles that exist in any new iteration of its OS. Most importantly, the company must continue to attract the developers who have become the kingmakers of the mobile realm. If Samsung is up to the task, we could see Bada break into the top tier of mobile operating systems. Mobile application developers should take note.

    Question of the week

    Can Samsung’s Bada become a major mobile operating system?
    Relevant Analyst
    Colin Gibbs

    Colin Gibbs

    Mobile Curator Gigaom Network

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