Samsung's new Bada smartphone platform will support multiple Web browsers, social networking, and multitouch screens, Samsung executives explained at a launch event in London on Tuesday. But there are still many painful questions about this nascent smartphone OS - including whether it will ever come to U.S. phones.
"We are opening a new era of smartphones for everyone by deploying the Bada platform in a massive number of handsets," Samsung EVP Hosoo Lee said.
Bada is a (for now) Samsung-only platform that builds on Samsung's feature-phone OS, adding many APIs for third party developers to create rich applications, according to a Q&A document provided by Samsung. Developers will be able to program in C++ for Bada handsets and will get deep access to hardware capabilities.
Samsung was coy to the point of being confusing about Bada's underpinnings. According to the company's Q&A, "Linux or RTOS" could underlie Bada, which means Bada may be a set of APIs and middleware rather than a single, unified OS platform.
Right now, Samsung has many powerful feature phones (such as the Samsung Rogue on Verizon, for instance), but third parties can only program them in the Java or Brew languages, which give developers fewer tools to create powerful applications.
Initially, Bada will appear on one touch-screen phone during the first half of 2010, said Thomas Richter, Samsung's European director of portfolio management. "After that, we will continue to introduce more Bada devices across the globe."
Bada will launch in 50 countries, Richter said. He didn't say whether the U.S. would be one of them, but the US was lit up on a map showing the initial Bada territories.
What Bada Does
Bada will come with an app store allowing both direct credit card sales and operator billing, Richter said. To encourage apps for the platform, Samsung is running a $2.7 million contest for developers.
Various slides in the Bada presentation hinted at features and apps for the platform.
One slide showed "in-app purchasing ... face recognition ... multipoint touch ... direct graphics buffer access ... [and] Flash support," for instance. Samsung's current feature phones don't have those features available for third-party developers.
Samsung called out social networking and location-enabled features on Bada. They showed a Twitter client, as well as integration between mapping, photo-sharing, and location-based services.
Gaming companies came up on stage to praise Bada's rich graphics, multitouch and control APIs.
Along with several game companies, social networking sites and Yahoo, Bada's launch partners include Networks in Motion, a GPS navigation company, and Skyfire, which makes a popular Flash-enabled Web browser for Windows Mobile phones.
Bada phones will also eventually be able to stream video from Blockbuster, Neil Davis, Blockbuster's chief information officer, said at the launch event.
Samsung is right that the line between feature phones and smartphones is blurring, and that many feature phones - such as Samsung's own Rogue for Verizon and Mythic for AT&T - are as powerful as smartphones.
But it's not clear that developers want yet another smartphone OS platform. Right now, to cover the market, developers need to write for Google Android; iPhone OS; Symbian Series 60; Palm WebOS; Windows Mobile; RIM's BlackBerry OS, Java, and BREW - at least. Bada seems to add to that complexity, not reduce it.
Samsung's power in the market means that Bada can't be ignored, but developers are already feeling exhausted by their OS options. Samsung alone now supports Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Java, BREW and now Bada.
For Bada to make sense to developers, it will have to gain some major market share quickly and start replacing, rather than merely supplementing some of these existing platforms. We're sure to see more on Bada at the Mobile World Congress trade show in February.
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