South Korea's Samsung Electronics on Tuesday launched its new smartphone platform, named bada, as the focus of the cellphone industry increasingly shifts to software.
Bada, which means ocean in Korean, includes a support platform for software developers, as the company aims to catch up with rival systems that offer an easy to use and feature-packed interface for applications such as games, the Internet, location-based services and music.
Driven by the success of Apple Inc's (AAPL) iPhone and its App Store, phone makers and wireless operators have started to push their service offerings hard.
Samsung's bada includes motion sensing, face detection, social networking and other interactive features, and its launch coincides with a challenge by the company to developers to win a share of a $2.7 million prize fund by using bada's features to build applications.
Development partners for bada include Twitter and games companies EA Mobile, a unit of Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS), and France's Gameloft (GFT.FR).
The platform provides an opportunity for developers "to get their applications onto an unprecedented number of Samsung devices across the world," said Hosoo Lee, Executive Vice President of Samsung Electronics' Media Solution Center.
Samsung will initially launch bada-based touch screen phones for the mid-range segment and thereafter on lower-end devices, Hosoo Lee told Dow Jones Newswires Tuesday.
He said bada phones will mainly be released in Asia and Europe in the first half of 2010, followed by other markets later, but Samsung had yet to determine a more detailed roadmap or set of targets.
The company will gradually expand the number of bada handsets but will also continue to use other platforms such as Microsoft Corp's (MSFT) Windows Mobile, Google Inc's (GOOG) Android and Symbian, said Lee, adding that the company still hasn't decided whether it will open up bada to other mobile phone manufacturers and operators.
Samsung's market share has grown steadily in recent quarters, helped by a competitive offering of phones with attractive hardware features such as touch screens, said analyst Neil Mawston at research firm Strategy Analytics, and bada looks to be a move to strengthen its position in the fast-growing smartphone segment, where profit margins are higher than for cheaper devices.
In the third quarter 2009, Samsung's global handset market share increased to 20.7% from 17.1% a year earlier, narrowing the gap to market leader Nokia Corp. (NOK) which had a 37.3% market share in the quarter, according to research firm Gartner Inc.
While bada will provide a platform for software developers, it will also mean operators can easily customize the user interface.
Still, Mawston said bada is a relatively late response to what some of Samsung's competitors are doing, and might not be too different from rival platforms such as LiMo, which Samsung already uses for some devices, or Symbian, Nokia's principal smartphone interface.
Speaking last week at its Espoo, Finland headquarters, Nokia Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said: "In 2010, we will drive user experience improvements, and the progress we make will take the Symbian user interface to a new level."
The launch of bada challenges Apple, one of Samsung's biggest customers for flash memory chips and screens, as well as Microsoft and Google, the firms it now relies on for the main software in its smartphones. Google's Android phone operating system is now on a growing number of phones globally. But Samsung has said it wants the flexibility and control that firms like iPhone-maker Apple get from owning a phone platform.
In addition to mobile phones, Samsung is the world's largest maker of memory chips and flat-screen televisions by revenue. "The global market is huge, but we also enjoy the benefits of the other areas where Samsung competes such as TVs and other devices, which gives us confidence in our approach of driving smartphones to a wider market," Hosoo Lee said.