15
Mar
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A little over two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published a juicy story about a technology love triangle gone sour, between Samsung, Google, and Motorola. That story, as most things published at the Journal about Android or Apple do, immediately caught fire. Is Samsung plotting to break away from a Google-approved Android? Is Google actually scared of Samsung's ginormous market share? It's the sort of backstabby drama that everyone in the tech news industry would love to see unfold. Count me among them - that would be something, wouldn't it? Samsung forking Android and eschewing Google's services and content once and for all. It would mark an entirely new chapter in a book called The Smartphone Wars which someone will inevitably write ten years from now. Aaron Sorkin could do the screenplay for the film adaptation.

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This storyline was already tumbling around in the heads of various critics and pundits when the Galaxy S4 landed yesterday, and Samsung made it relatively easy to read into that story even further. Offering app developers 100% of revenue (for a limited period) if they come to the Samsung Hub? Wait, Samsung has a content hub, and it's actually called a HUB!? Then, a translate app. Google has one of those, it can't be a coincidence!

The thing is, the "tables have turned" op-eds (like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one - take your pick, there are literally dozens) were waiting in the wings at this point regardless of what Samsung said. Short of announcing a bone-stock Android experience or bringing Sundar Pichai onstage for a handshake photo-op and peace treaty signing (heck, that might not even have worked), these predictions were coming. And that's because everyone knows that Samsung is by far the dominant Android handset maker, and that Google is actively working with Motorola to market a high-end, market-disrupting smartphone. It's simply a matter of synthesizing some drama between the two, because the conflict is already outlined. We know it's coming - Google will be competing with Samsung through Motorola later this year.

At this point, though, the wild tales of Samsung actively trying to remove Google's influence in its products are simply speculation. When you're not actually paying attention to the aspects of Android that Google holds the cards to, it might be easy to envision a future where Samsung 'forks' the platform and goes all Amazon on everyone and unveils S-OS. But let's not forget, Google does control some parts of Android that Samsung simply can't do without at this point, parts that it would lose if it decided to 'fork.'

Google's Cloud Messaging for Android service is a key part of one of Android's most beloved features: push notifications. While it's entirely possible to create a replacement for this service (as Amazon has), many Android developers heavily utilize the feature, and it's one that many users have simply come to expect. GCM is a part of Google's proprietary services, and as such, it doesn't work on devices that aren't Google-certified. Samsung could create a replacement, but that would require getting developers to use a new API (and, you know, making one), and then hoping it would work as well as Google's.

Forking Android would also forego access to Google apps outside of mobile browser modes - Maps (and thus turn-by-turn navigation), Gmail, Google+, Google Search / Now, Chrome, Drive, Talk, and numerous others. Again, some of these can be replaced. But even iOS has Google Maps and Chrome - and the former came to the platform after Apple's competing product practically started e-riots. And let's not forget - forkers don't get early access to Android, and that would put Samsung significantly behind on the software update curve.

Dropping Google at this point would be product suicide, plain and simple. Samsung couldn't do it if it wanted to, because it would greatly decrease the value and competitiveness of its products. Even JK Shin has basically said there's no change in the Samsung-Google dynamic.

We like Android and we plan to continue our good relations with Google. I don't think it's correct to say that there's friction.

JK Shin, March 14, 2013

There's also a rather key point everyone seems to be avoiding on this issue: what does Samsung lose by sticking with Google? Samsung is in the 'selling smartphones' business. Google's software and services - without question - help Samsung sell smartphones, if indirectly. It seems that in attempting to draw analogies to Apple's walled-garden approach, it's been entirely forgotten that Samsung reaps far more benefits by keeping Google and adding to that experience than it would by removing Google from the equation.

How much marketing thunder does Google steal from Samsung by being included in its Galaxy products? The answer is basically none. But Google adds tons of substantive value. The average person isn't going to buy a Galaxy S4 because it's Android, or because it's "Google," they're going to buy it because it's a Samsung and it's highly popular and friends, coworkers, family, and corny television ads will recommend it. But Google's apps and services are an integral part of the success of Samsung's smartphones, even if that's not how consumers think about it.

As easy as it is to humanize the 'conflict' between Google and Samsung, from a business standpoint it makes no sense for Samsung to drop Google. Samsung is able to get access to all of Google's wonderful services and products without using the word Google once in any of its advertising or official product announcements. No, Samsung doesn't mention Android at its big events - but really, who does anymore? Google doesn't highlight the word "Android" once on the main Play Store devices page. Its flagship Nexus commercial doesn't mention Android, either. Samsung isn't the only one neglecting the Android name.

Samsung has the best sort of tech partnership here - one that lets you take all of the credit! But there's nothing wrong with that. That's how Google envisioned the Android ecosystem working. Partners would build on top of the platform, combined with Google's services and content. Google gets more users, OEMs sell handsets and boost their brand image. Samsung just happens to have been very good at it.

But what about the Samsung Hub? Or S-Voice? Or S-Translate? Aren't those all competing with Google's products? Sure they are. But it's not like Samsung is playing 'hide the ball' here - Google Search / Now and the Play Store are still very prominent on Samsung's devices, and you still need a Google account if you really want all the apps, games, and services that make Android (and thus, your Galaxy phone) great. Sure, Samsung asks you to make a Samsung account when you activate a Galaxy phone, but I think that's far from having the ominous anti-Google implications everyone seems to think it does.

Let me put it this way - Samsung is far more interested in selling you a scale or a heart rate monitor than it is in getting you to use S-Voice instead of Google Voice Search.

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THE END IS NIGH

And some of these Samsung features people are using as talking points have been around for a while now - Samsung Hub is just a combination of Media Hub and Samsung Apps, products that have been around for years. Samsung's just reworking them into a central location. I honestly don't see how the Galaxy S4 has pushed any further away from Google than the S III or Note II did.

Samsung is simply hedging its bets in some areas should things go south with Google (which I'm not denying as a possibility), and working on developing its own strong software suite, to improve its products. Is there actually anything so devious about that? I'd argue it's a good thing - a little competition keeps the industry on its toes. But I think anyone suggesting that this is the 'beginning of the end' for the Samsung-Google love affair is reading too far into a handful of apk files and an hour of cheesy skits.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • GraveUypo

    what would happen is i would stop buying samsung phones. simple as that.

    • John O’Connor

      If they went full on Tizen, I might drop them as well... on a sad friday pun note, I literally dropped and shattered my Note 2 this morning and its shattered. $200 insurance deductible nowadays The sad part is that they are so popular that they are backordered and a repacement will not be available for 5 days at a minimum.

      • Anfronie

        damn $200 now?!?! I thought the highest was $150 :(

    • s44

      If they did it, it wouldn't be out of the blue. It would be because Google pushed them out.

      If Google decided to be stupid, hardheaded, and evil, I'd probably dump them.

  • http://twitter.com/RvLeshrac RvLeshrac

    And where would Samsung get app support? Would people *really* use a *fifth* app store?

    • Tomi Golob

      Hahah, good example

      • Chris Carter

        The first time someone couldn't log into their Gmail account and have their contact automatically download, is when the idea of a forked Samsung Android OS would be a big fail. One log in to access all your Google services is so much a part of the Android experience that it's absence would be loudly noted. Apps are one thing, having access to all your stuff is something else.

        • kg215

          That sounds a lot like the argument for aosp vs blur/touchwiz/sense. Everyone on this site agrees that aosp is better, but we are the elite few. The majority of people don't care that the OS looks different or that there are a bunch of extra things that don't come from Google. For us Google Services are a big selling point, and it would be a huge deal to be cut off. For the majority of people, they would be fine with a different sync service as long as it worked ok.

        • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

          I own devices running literally every major (and some minor) mobile platform. There isn't one that doesn't have the ability to connect to gmail (usually by Exchange), which gives me mail and contact syncing, and I think Calendar, in just one login. To most people, that is Google's list of services. Granting that other services exist and may be relevant to some people (eg. Google Talk), but this adds 2-3 logins, that only need to be performed once.

    • Lana Del Fish Filet

      Don't think it would be that hard to find a way to import/use apps from other platforms on their Tizen. The actual difficult part would be making the switch without a majority of people realizing it.

      • http://twitter.com/RvLeshrac RvLeshrac

        It would also be illegal. Not just "grey-area" illegal, but "everyone now gets to sue the holy fuck out of Samsung" illegal.

        • kg215

          He doesn't mean the developers of the apps not realizing it. He means the consumers not realizing the app store is different (or atleast I hope he does). It's not illegal at all if they work with the developers and port a version to the Samsung Hub, Blackberry ports android apps to their terrible OS though not that many of them.

  • PCSievers

    If Samsung does bring a risk to Google it is to start pushing Tizen heavily as a super cheap Android alternative so instead of the Galaxy Ace at the bottom end of the smartphone market it will be the Tizen Ace (or whatever) which Samsung could virtually give away and would cut into the Android share of the overall smartphone market.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      And Tizen would magically gets all its content from... where? I'm not being a smartass, I just don't see how Tizen would at all be a preferable budget platform compared to Android. Sony, HTC, and LG would just start eating Samsung's lunch in the budget market.

      • http://twitter.com/branaja Branimir

        from converting android apps, just like blackberry did with some apps?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          Because that's working out so well.

        • John Ruiz

          And what about all them games? I can't imagine a Galaxy S II being able to play all the Temple Run, Angry Birds, Final Fantasy, Emulators, Humble Indie Bundle games while The Galaxy S8 can only play the latest installments of said series.

      • PCSievers

        From the same place that the higher end test Tizen phone Samsung announced earlier today with an August launch will get content from.

  • Jonathan Grubbs

    I sold my Kindle Fire and bought a Nexus 7 because Amazon locks out Google Apps, the same thing would happen if Samsung tried to lock out Google Apps on their devices. I don't listen to all the hype. I think Google and Samsung are playing nice together and both are benefiting from Samsung's success!

    • Khalil Grace

      I put Hashcode's Jelly Bean 4.2 on my Kindle Fire and it runs like butter! Buh-bye Amazon!

  • http://k3rnel.net Juan Rodriguez

    I recently installed a Firefox extension that replaces all uses of "cloud" with "butt". Your article made me raise an eyebrow and laugh when I remembered I had it installed.

    "Google's Butt Messaging for Android service is a key part of one of Android's most beloved features: push notifications."

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

      The twelve year old in all of us is laughing its butt off.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      But... why?

      • squiddy20

        *Butt... why?
        There, I fixed it for you :P

      • Krn

        Cloud...why?

      • http://k3rnel.net Juan Rodriguez

        Cloud is a buzzword that has been used way too much. Someone thought it was about time to do something about that and did a Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera extension to change that :P
        https://github.com/panicsteve/cloud-to-butt
        I modified the Firefox one to replace "Cloud" with "Butt" because the original one would only replace "The Cloud" with "My Butt"

      • ari_free

        No ifs ands or clouds

    • John O’Connor

      push notifications in the butt. classy

      • ari_free

        Stop being such a pain in the cloud

  • Chris Caldwell

    Samsung got some leverage with the popularity of the gs3, and will lose it because they dropped the ball so badly with the gs4. The same way apple hosed themselves with disappointing upgrades, samsung just lost all of its ability to deviate from the googlesphere. That, combined with the clear message consumers sent with the explosive success of the nexus line ("stop adding useless crap to android, stop overpricing phones with a set mortality, stop delaying android updates, theres no android like "pure" android"), striking up a war with the very company that took them from cut-rate appliances to top-notch phones would be suicide.

    • PCSievers

      You need to step outside of the bubble dude. GS4 is a great device that will sell at least as strongly as the GS3 and the Nexus line is an absolute blip on the marketshare split, probably no more than 1% of all sales in the US and Europe, Plus the majority of those sales come from its cheapness not from its "pure Android" or fast updates. The absolute vast majority of consumers dont care about Nexus beyond its sticker price.

    • TheFirstUniverseKing

      Look at this article from January. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jan/03/google-nexus-4-phone-sales

      The "explosive success" or selling out (which you're likely referring to) stemmed from a miniscule number of units being available for purchase in the first place. So in other words, only the Android enthusiasts purchased it, not many others. Partly because no one knows about it, it's constantly appearing as sold out to would-be buyers, and then there's the shattering glass back issue among other problems.

  • Xye

    Samsung is taking some greedy moves and want to have the entire market for their own. Killing even allies to gain wealth. They're building the ecosystem by destroying Google revenue and the lines of profits. In other words, they're building Samsung Galaxy and NOT Google Android.

    This will bite Google in the butt if they didn't act to build their own brand.

    • Темури Поцхорая

      wait what? Exactly how Samsung ruining Googles business? Remember that googles main business is advertising.

      May be Samsung want to compete with google play but they not insane to do it in thermonuclear way. What do you think pushing progress? Dont take that "hub" thing so personal.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    IMHO, this article nails it as far as Sammy is concerned.

    The only thing I'd add is from Google's perspective. I could imagine Google having a bit of apprehension about Sammy having 40% of the Android market share, because I wouldn't want Android living or dying on one OEM.

    Right now, it's a huge exaggeration to say that as goes Samsung, so goes Android. But what if the trend continues, and Sammy eats up 50%, 60%, or more of the Android market share?

    All it would take is one HTC Thunderbolt from Sammy to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth about Android as a whole.

  • RedPandaAlex

    Samsung is using Tizen and Windows to hedge against Android just like Google is using Motorola and LG to hedge against Samsung. I don't see anything wrong with either of those things. I don't think the kind of deal that Microsoft and Nokia have is good for the industry.

  • JonJJon

    Man do I love Android Police Editorials!

  • pika

    Here is a well-written article, not the crap that others are publishing about Samsung n Google just for traffic.

  • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

    I began to think that those so called insiders, analysts really don't know anything more than we do. This Samsung forking Android thing is one example, but there are others. Recently, they also talked about Apple will and must produce a cheaper iPhone -- when I saw that, I was like "Do you guys even f*cking know what you are talking about?" Apple could just lower the prices of their previous model!

    • Régis Knechtel

      iPhone 5c ;)

  • nsnsmj

    @rdr0b11:disqus Hey you, get your logic out of here! Nobody wants to hear it! /s

    But seriously, this is something I've been telling people for a while. Yes, Samsung is a huge boost to the Android ecosystem, but ditching Google does more damage to Samsung than it does Google.

    The relationship between Google and Samsung is mutually beneficial, but if Samsung goes off on its own, it instantly loses many of the benefits most people take for granted. Apps, arguably the most important part of mobile devices these days? Gone in an instant. All of Google's services and back-end that most Samsung customers don't even realize is integral to getting the most out of their Galaxy Whatever? Gone like the wind.

    Samsung forking Android / ditching Google would only be a minor bump on Google's road, in my opinion. Some other OEM(s) would take Samsung's place. People don't realize it but Sony sells a lot more phones than people think. I wouldn't doubt if you see them have a nice increase in marketshare over the next few years. Plus, I see Motorola becoming a huge player in the Android game soon.

  • spydie

    you're way out in left field in your predictions. People buy samsung BECAUSE it's android (with a skin). I have an sgs3 and Note 2... I wouldn't consider another samsung phone if wasn't android. My prediction is that most owners of samsung phones feel the same way. They'll never be big enough to compete head to head with google/android, and there's really no room in the market for another completely new/different OS... people are very happy with ios and android (and both Windows customers, too).

    • Angela

      I am inclined to agree with Spydie. I have a Note 2 and love the Samsung line of smartphones and think that Samsung and Google are a perfectly written song. I love my free navigation...no one does it better than google. I am beginning to love google now especially when I travel. Samsung has pretty slick products all around but I think they should focus on what they do best and leave the operating system to google. Amazon makes you pay for a lot of apps...I don't even look there way when buying a tablet. If Samsung left Google it would force me to take a look at another Smartphone. RIM is hanging on my a thread and they use to be Apple's biggest competitors. Now it is not just Android that is Apple's biggest competitors...it's Samsung in particular. They need to stay put.

  • Nex Unit Xyber

    You FOOLS! Tizen allows to be able and run Android apps already! They are Kanging!!!

  • Cao Meo

    I don't think people buy Samsung phones without knowing they run Android, and Samsung has no sofware capabilities to fork Android.

    Amazon is good example, look what they have done with Android: it's a crap and good enough to run Amazon content, nothing more.

  • Yeshe Dorje

    I almost totally agree with David's editorial. Samsung has a lot more "hook" into Google than just Android, don't forget. For example they also sell Chrombooks. Android won't be forked by Samsung; they have a longer-term vision with Tizen. Now they are trying to get customers addicted to their unique features (such as the S-pen on Note devices). Later, if Tizen works well, they can continue to offer the same features but with Tizen (which is based on the same source code as Android, I believe). This is really all about growing their own ecosystem. That is the challenge they are posing to Google. It will take them a long time if it happens. Look at MS and Blackberry trying to grow out their own ecosystems. Takes time if it can happen at all.

  • Michael McGrade

    No I will buy an S4 because it's an Android device from Samsung. It's both components. But I've been arguing the same point that Samsung isn't leaving Android...if anything Samsung will build their portfolio with other OS's as they already do have devices not only running Google's OS but Microsoft's as well. Samsung is in the business to make money and they like doing it in every venture they can. I mean the make TV's, microwaves, fridges, computers, and so much more. Samsung is first and foremost a business looking to make money.

  • kg215

    Definitely a great breakdown of the non-drama between Google and Samsung. It's mutually beneficial, people keep trying to make trouble that isn't there. Both companies having backup plans is good too, you never want to become WebOS or Blackberry.

  • Jerome Henry

    Everybody know if it wasn't for google it would be no Samsung.But if it wasn't for Samsung the Android would not be as big as it is now.Personally I don't like Apple reason being I've had a Apple phone before it is about as boring as you can get.What iam say is Google needs Samsung like Samsung needs Google.Way you think Android has passed Apple in everything as for as specs.I remember the beginning days of Android s***** screen specs bad processing power ect.Now look at the phones now there like miniature computers always pushing to be better and change

  • Kaostheory

    If people were buying because of the Samsung name, then they would be selling an equivalent amount of windows phones. Obviously they're not, so what this tells me is without a good os Samsung is nothing. Apps and developers are what sells, this is how Apple is still in the game with an outdated os and lower spec'd phone.

  • ari_free

    With android, Samsung lets Google and all the developers do most of the work and they just add their nice little features on top. Why reinvent the wheel?

  • Megacharge

    Samsung is where it's at market wise because of Google. The day they forget that and go off on their own, they can kiss their market share goodbye as well as most of their loyal mobile customers. No one gives a crap about Bada, or any other OS Samsung's been working on. Sure people buy Samsung because of it's good marketing but, the biggest reason is because it runs Android.

  • Elias

    When I saw the buzz about Samsung forking Android, I thought "this is why we can't have nice things". Such change could only be driven by extreme greed and would be a utter disrespect to Google, which is greatly responsible for letting Samsung be where it is now on the mobile world.

  • Hasanabbas Rehemtulla

    I laughed at S-OS, the thing is you wouldn't put it past Samsung to do that. Frankly I don't care what Samsung does, I'm sticking with Nexus and stock Android.

  • Jonathan Grubbs

    I guess the fact that Google is now selling a GS4 direct, we don't have to worry about these rumors!

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