Samsung's first Tizen phone ships with Google Search and YouTube apps, and Google as its default search engine
Following delays of over a year, Samsung finally shipped its first Tizen-powered handset, the Z1, earlier this month in India. The arrival of Tizen on smartphones — remember it's been on Samsung's Gear smartwatches for almost a year now — has been a long time coming, and there's been plenty of speculation among press and mobile industry watchers that Tizen could emerge as a viable alternative to Android for the Korean electronics giant.
What we've found during our initial hands-on time with an Indian Samsung Z1, however, is a phone that's very much at ease with Google's ecosystem.
Firstly and most significantly, the Samsung Z1 ships with Google Search and YouTube apps in its app drawer. Both are pretty basic — the Google app merely pops up a search bar, then sends you to the built-in web browser to show results. Meanwhile the YouTube app is just a wrapper for the video service's mobile site at m.youtube.com. Basic as they are, however, the fact that official iconography is being used suggests Samsung is acting with Mountain View's approval.
The presence of Google and YouTube apps in the app drawer is no small deal. None of the other search providers supported in the Tizen browser — Bing and Yahoo — are given such prominence. What's more, Google has the honor of being the Tizen browser's default search engine out of the box.
Though Tizen and the Samsung Z1 are direct rivals to the Android platform in general and Android One in particular, two of Google's main services are positioned front and center on the the first Tizen phone.
Far from being a means for Samsung to escape Google's yoke, Tizen on phones is just another vessel for the search giant's services.
Elsewhere, Tizen's account manager will quite happily interface with Google accounts, including Gmail, Google Calendar — presumably through IMAP and CardDav/CalDav, which is the go-to method for using Google services on non-Android mobile devices like the iPhone. (That's not too surprising — after all, Google is big enough that every mobile platform needs to play nicely with its mail, contacts and calendar services.)
Samsung can escape Android with Tizen, but so far it can't escape Google. Far from being a means for Samsung to free itself from Google's yoke, Tizen on the Samsung Z1 looks like just another vessel for the search giant's services. It's not as Googley an experience as a Galaxy smartphone, where the ever-present (and mandatory) Google search bar dominates the home screen, and Google Now is just a button press away. Samsung's clearly in the driving seat here, and as such it'll also benefit from a greater slice of app revenue through the Tizen Store.
But is this the start of an exodus away from Android and Google for the biggest Android phone maker? Our experiences with Tizen so far suggest not.
We'll have more to say on Tizen and the Samsung Z1 in the coming week, so keep watching.