Phone makers seek alternative to Android

(MoneyWatch) Samsung plans later this year to launch some smartphones based not on Android, the Google (GOOG) mobile platform the Korean technology giant uses for most of its handsets, but rather on a new operating system. That is potentially a problem for the search titan because Samsung is the largest seller of smartphones running Android.

The move by Samsung represents yet another effort by hardware manufacturers to displace Android as the smartphone software of choice. Driving that shift: a wish for differentiation in the market, desires to own a platform, and concerns over legal liability. And depending on how it plays out, it opens the door to moving beyond what essentially has been a two-way race between Apple (AAPL) and Google to control the mobile software market.

Samsung plans to introduce some devices that run Tizen, which is based on the Linux operating system, as is Android. Tizen is a new incarnation of a project that Intel (INTC) and Nokia (NOK) originally collaborated on.

In addition, Linux vendor Ubuntu has created its own smartphone operating system based on the open software platform.

A number of hardware vendors have shown interest in finding an entirely different mobile operating system. In addition to Samsung, LG and HTC have both either experimented with or implemented other options.

Because Google owns the Android platform, it can do with it as the company wishes, without any input from  hardware vendors. When all the companies use variations on Android, meanwhile, it becomes more difficult to differentiate products and to innovate in ways that top the competition.

Then there are the legal issues. Both Apple and Microsoft (MSFT) have regularly sued vendors that use Android, alleging that Google's platform illegally mimics their respective technology. An alternative operating system might avoid conflict with the two companies. Microsoft has pushed Windows Phone as a choice, but it has the disadvantage of not being free. In addition, hardware vendors are wary of Microsoft's increased activity in developing and selling its own devices.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Stankovic Vlada