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Samsung, Intel's Tizen OS makes splashy intro at MWC

The operating system, open but guided by the two technology giants, gets its first official unveiling at Mobile World Congress.

A reference demo model running Tizen.
Luke Westaway/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--It's Tizen's turn for the spotlight.

The upstart mobile operating system, shepherded into development by Samsung Electronics and Intel, made a splashy debut at an event at Mobile World Congress.

The operating system is seen as a potential alternative to the dominance of Android, and has been driven in part by demand by carriers for a more open OS that they can tinker with.

Beyond the two key players, the night was a celebration of other partners, including Huawei, which is joining the steering committee of the Tizen Association, and European wireless carrier Orange. Orange said that it has committed to selling Tizen phones from Samsung and Huawei this year.

NTT Docomo has committed to being the first carrier to sell a Tizen smartphone, and CNET earlier broke the story that the first Tizen phones, made by Samsung, would debut in July or August.

Kiyohito Nagata, managing director of strategic marketing for NTT Docomo and chairman of the Tizen Association, called it "the basement of the future success of the Tizen OS and ecosystem."

Executives from Orange and NTT Docomo both said the first Tizen phones would debut on the high end, which could be priced above $300. Orange said that Tizen phones would hit the emerging markets in 2014, where phones are typically priced under $100.

Samsung looks like it is putting a lot of stock in the operating system, which boasts a colorful history. Samsung is reportedly folding its own Bada operating system into Tizen, clearly seeing the potential in the OS. Hankil Yoon, an executive for Samsung, addressed the report, saying that the company hasn't yet made a decision on the fate of Bada, but noted that the two operating systems already share some assets.

It's unclear when Tizen will make its way to the U.S., but Sprint Nextel is a member of the Tizen Association and has expressed an openness to the phones.

Samsung's secret weapon in the mobile wars: Tizen

NTT Docomo previously told CNET that it liked Tizen because it would allow the company to work on an OS that would enable it to maintain control over its subscribers. A common theme at the show this year has been the tension that the carriers feel toward companies such as Google or Facebook that make money sending data across their networks -- companies often known as over-the-top players.

The Tizen Association has been working for a year and a half on the application ecosystem, and there are thousands of apps already ready to support the platform. But the group declined to provide an exact number, and only said that there would be a robust number of apps by the launch.

The show has also been the place for upstart operating systems. Mozilla unveiled its Firefox OS earlier in the show, complete with a large group of partners backing the initiative. Phones running on the Ubuntu mobile OS have been floating around the show as well.

The executives said they had no problems with Firefox OS and a competing open operating system. Many said that while they could have dabbled in both platforms, they opted to put their resources into the OS that they believe will work.

Updated at 12:31 pm PT: to include additional details and executive comments.