The fledgling Tizen smartphone OS has managed to attract 15 new backers, three of which are big name brands in Asia, including the Chinese search giant Baidu, handset maker ZTE, and Japanese mobile operator SoftBank Mobile.
On Thursday, the three companies were named as partners with the Tizen Association, a Samsung and Intel-led industry group that's been guiding the Linux-based OS's development. By lending their support, the companies can gain greater access into shaping Tizen, the association said in a statement. U.S. mobile carrier Sprint was also named as partner.
The new partnerships are a sign of growing interest in the mobile OS at a time when Google's Android is dominating the smartphone market. No vendors have yet begun selling Tizen-installed phones, but several devices are slated to be shown at the Mobile World Congress event later this month. Allegedly leaked pictures of an upcoming Tizen phone from Samsung, one of the OS's main backers, have also appeared online. Tizen could also be used on tablets, laptops, and perhaps even printers, TVs, and cameras.
SoftBank Mobile, however, doesn't plan on taking a leading role in developing Tizen, a company spokesman said on Thursday. Instead, the Japanese mobile operator simply wants to study the technology behind the platform, he added, and no decisions have been made as to whether it will offer a Tizen phone in the future.
SoftBank's rival NTT DoCoMo, and another member of the Tizen Association, had originally wanted to launch a phone based on the mobile OS. But last month, it back-pedaled on its plans, stating that the market conditions for such a device were off. The company has not decided to abandon the OS, however.
As for Tizen's new China-based partners, it's still unclear what ZTE and Baidu hope to gain from the operating system.
ZTE declined to comment on the partnership, but its future phones will still largely be developed around Android, said a company spokesman. Most of ZTE's phones are built with Google's mobile OS, but the company has been a big supporter of Mozilla's new Firefox operating system for mobile devices. The Chinese handset maker plans on bringing out a second-generation Firefox OS phone in the first half of 2014.
Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese search giant has in the past worked with hardware partners to develop phones installed with a suite of Baidu mobile services.