There are plenty of companies large and small vying to serve as a smartphone owner’s home screen.

With Terrain, launching on Tuesday, Samsung is offering up yet another option.

Terrain comes not from Samsung’s massive mobile operations, but instead from David Eun’s Palo Alto-based Samsung Accelerator, which launched last year.

In fact, Terrain is the first product to see a public release from the accelerator. Terrain offers users a list of cards that provide shortcuts to information, content, social network feeds, frequently accessed information and settings on the device.
“They are like CliffsNotes for your phone,” says Dwipal Desai, founder and CEO of Terrain, which is funded by Samsung but operates like its own six-person startup.

Swiping from left to right brings up the sidebar, while a swipe from right to left brings up a list of all apps, arranged alphabetically in a way that Desai said can be more useful than the standard Android means of sorting. A swipe up opens a local search option that looks for contacts, settings or anything else on the phone — but doesn’t query the Web.

“Search with Android is Web first,” Desai said. “We wanted search that is phone first.”

Terrain joins of a host of home screen options, from those that come preloaded by device makers to Facebook Home and other third-party software options. Desai said that the company chose to focus solely on the home screen, rather than both the lock screen and home screen, because lock screen replacements are less useful for users protecting their phones with pass codes.

Despite coming from Samsung, Terrain faces an uncertain path if it is to move beyond a lab project. Terrain will be made available free from the Google Play store and works with all Android phones running 4.2 or later. However, Samsung has no big distribution deals in place and is relying basically on word of mouth to let people know about the effort.

And while it is open for app makers to plug into, developer interest is likely to be scant unless Terrain first develops a decent-sized base of users. Desai acknowledged that he does face something of a chicken-and-egg problem, but said Samsung will look to craft some deals to make sure that its Terrain is not a desert.