Conflicting forces: can Samsung and Google get along?

by: Simon HillMay 9, 2014


samsung galaxy s5 android kitkat logo 2

The two driving forces behind Android’s victory march are engaged in an uneasy relationship that’s proving to be very unpredictable. Google’s Android Wear platform and the impending Android Silver program suggest that they are definitely not on the same page. Samsung has launched Tizen on the Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch and a smartphone is still expected to follow. Is a horrible break up inevitable, or can Google and Samsung find a way to work together?

Coming together

Cast your mind back to January and you might remember us asking can Samsung benefit by breaking away from Android? At the time we concluded that, although the two companies are pulling in different directions, both still benefit from the relationship, so an imminent break was not on the cards. A few days later they penned a 10 year cross-license patent agreement, and a few days after that, there was the surprising news about Google selling Motorola to Lenovo and Samsung scaling back its Android customizations.

Was this lasting peace or just a temporary ceasefire?

Not giving much ground

At MWC in February Samsung unveiled its new smartwatches, the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo, both powered by Tizen. It also launched its latest flagship, the Galaxy S5, which proved to be a typically feature-packed Samsung smartphone with a slightly tweaked TouchWiz UI. Samsung was smart enough not to go on about all the software features this time around and a quieter and humbler unveil was perceived as a return to form after the S4.

Early reports suggest that the Galaxy S5 is selling well in the face of some excellent competition, not least the HTC One M8 and the Sony Xperia Z2. Samsung has a well-oiled marketing machine and extremely ambitious targets for the Galaxy brand, aiming for 35 million units shipped in the first three months.

samsung galaxy s5 aa (20 of 36)

The S5 release might have been low key and the media hub has been dumped. The S5 shipped to carriers with around 40 pre-installed apps compared to the 50 that went out in the S4, but that’s still plenty of Samsung apps that offer the same things as Google apps or try to steer you toward Samsung services, including S Voice, My Magazine, S Health, and its own email, browser, and a seriously beefed up camera.

All in all it’s a pretty minor scaling back and Samsung still deviates further from Google’s Android than the rest of the big OEMs.

Is Samsung on board?

In March Google unveiled Android Wear, a new platform to drive wearable technology and make sure that Android devices are linked to the next wave of smartwatches. You would imagine Samsung knew this was coming and yet it pressed ahead with Tizen for the Gear 2. In April, Han-kil Yoon, Samsung’s senior VP of strategy confirmed that there will be an Android-based smartwatch later this year.


As for that overdue Tizen smartphone, it’s supposed to be landing around the end of Q2, so it should be along very soon. Yoon admitted to Reuters that the original Tizen launch was botched and went on to explain “We have changed our strategy and will release the phones in a few countries where we can do well”. That doesn’t sound like a huge fanfare release and he was also quoted as saying that Android “still needs to be our main business”.

Make no mistake, Samsung still completely dominates Android. According to IDC Samsung’s smartphone market share in Q1 this year was 30.2%. Two thirds of Android smartphones are sold by Samsung, according to Localytics, which also reported that the Galaxy S5 accounted for 0.7% of all Android smartphones in the world by the end of its first week on sale.

The silver elephant in the room

The revelations that Google may be planning to end the Nexus line and fold the Google Play Experience program into a rebranded initiative, codenamed Android Silver, cannot be pleasing to Samsung.

samsung galaxy s5 vs nexus 5 3

The idea is that Google will subsidize the development and promote the line, which will potentially include a number of devices from different manufacturers, with a large marketing campaign including kiosks in carrier stores. In return, the OEMs will ditch their own UIs and bloatware and move closer to a vanilla Android experience. The fragmentation issue and update delays will be swept away.

Google definitely wants a smoother, better Android experience, and it would like OEMs to move in this direction. If cutting SD card support was a stick, then perhaps Silver is a carrot.

What’s in it for Samsung?

Why would Samsung give up on its own ecosystem and shave off the features and software that differentiate its devices? There’s been speculation that Samsung wants the Nexus line dead because of the aggressively low pricing, but it’s not like Samsung is struggling to sell phones. Without sales figures we don’t actually know how successful the Nexus 5 was, only that Google considered it a win.

We can’t see Samsung jumping onboard with Silver without a compelling reason, but it is the ultimate scattergun approach company. The South Korean manufacturer has devices in every form factor and category conceivable. It will continue to make its own Android devices in all shapes, sizes, and price points, but that probably won’t preclude it from making a Silver device as well. It seemed happy enough to release a Galaxy S4 Google Play edition, perhaps to test the waters.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa jelly bean

It may like the idea of selling content itself and gaining market share with its own Tizen platform, but that doesn’t mean it can make a success of it, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s going to dump a profitable scene like Android. We don’t really know how good Tizen is or how Samsung will deal with the app situation. It was telling that the Tizen Gear 2 dropped the Galaxy name; Samsung is far from ready to jump ship. If there’s nothing to stop Samsung having fingers in all the pies, then that’s probably what it will do.

What is Google up to?

Google wants its services on as many devices as possible by any means necessary. The drive towards cheaper smartphones was all about increasing market share. Competition in the low and mid-range is fierce, but that’s not where the real profits lie. If Google is truly taking aim at the premium end of the market with Silver then it’s a much bigger threat to Samsung.

It’s possible that Silver is actually Google’s attempt to combat Samsung’s dominance of the platform. Maybe it wants to give the other OEMs a hand to compete with the Galaxy brand, but you can bet it won’t want to alienate the biggest Android manufacturer around. It could prove a tricky line to walk.

  • Aniruddh

    We should all understand that Samsung makes a significant amount of money from Android. Those profits however are entirely dependent on Android and Google, and if you look at it from a business point of view, that is bad. If Google takes Android in a direction that is unfavourable for Samsung, it will face a drop in profits. That’s perhaps the reason why Samsung is trying to branch off into Tizen. Samsung has a strong brand in the smartphone market and therefore it’ll find it considerably easier to avoid a win like debacle and build up popularity for Tizen, which is another incentive.
    But Tizen is likely to fail too. We’ve seen some great hardware from Samsung (barring the design part), but the software aspect has been…well shakey. There is no incentive for anyone to use Samsung App Store or ChatON. The dialer and contacts are different apps – which is fine but the tabs are different. For those who haven’t used Samsung devices, if you are on the Contacts tab, you don’t have the log tab, which is replaced by the groups tab. To open the logs tab, you have to go to the dialer tab which replaces the groups tab with the logs one. Horrible design.
    If Samsung and Google work together, I am sure that Samsung will be able to put out far better phones as far as the software is concerned. Services are Google’s specialty after all.

  • Karmic Koala

    whatever the outcome, I’ll go with company that support expandable storage, be it Samsung or Google

    • Daniel D

      Exactly. Expandable memory and removable battery are the most important things for me

      • Gab Tab

        Google needs to learn that not all of us have a data plan.

        • progressivesciences

          They also need to learn that not all of us wants to use cloud storage such as drive.
          (*cough cough* kitkat sd card)

    • dandroid13

      We all know Google thinks external storage “confuses users”. lol

      • Guest123

        IMHO, I think google is also like Amazon and they just don’t want users to have expandable storage at all — they would much rather have you tied into their cloud thus locking you into their services.

  • If they separate – which is extremely unlikely, by the way – I’d go with Google, because they’ll have Ara.

  • MasterMuffin

    “Android still needsto be our main business” that’s the problem. If they were okay with Android, they’d say ” Android is our main business”. Need means they want to get rid of it :/

    • addthebad

      Not necessarily, the galaxy phones are their cash cow, businesses are suppose to make money, so they’ll focus on that

      • MasterMuffin

        Of course they’ll focus on that. As said, they need to. But they’ll change as soon as possible

        • addthebad

          Why would they? its not like android will stop making them money any time soon. It’s perfectly normal for companies to explore some diversification. Google has 2 operating systems, it doesn’t mean their going to dump android for chrome

          • MasterMuffin

            Based on the statement and them having developed own version of every Google app, they’re trying to get rid of it. “It’s not like Android will stop making them money any time soon” I wasn’t saying that and I wasn’t saying they’ll change soon

          • Shark Bait

            I think your wrong.
            “We have changed our strategy and will release the phones in a few countries where we can do well”

            Basically Samsung will use tizen in emerging markets, where HTC, moto and sony will use android. People will see how much better the android ecosystem is and sammy will struggle. Tizen is no way a replace, just something else their trying, same way they make windows phones, sammy like to saturate the market with every model they can!

          • MasterMuffin

            That saturate part is true, but I think they’re testing the waters and seeing how stuff works and developing it so that they can get rid of Android. But no means, as said before, are they going to say bye bye anytime soon :)

          • Shark Bait

            Yes I guess testing the waters is the right phrase to use, i suppose their doing the same thing with windows and will go with which ever flies. Unfortunately for sammy I think tizen is way down the list on operating systems with potential

          • MasterMuffin

            Have you ever used Tizen? :D

          • Shark Bait

            To be honest No, I just cant see it being of much significance. In developed markets android will be top, and windows and iOS will battle for second and third as blackberry die. That’s almost certain as markets are beginning to saturate.

            The interesting plays are coming from developing markets now. I see Microsoft making a big push for this, thus the Nokia acquisition, and android will take a big piece of this pie, because it runs on high and low cost hardware. Here apple will have very little market share because their unlikely to come down a price bracket.
            This leaves room for a 3rd player. This 3rd player will likely be the ones running on ultra low cost hardware as widows and android take the mid and low. This could be Firefox, or others….. but tizen tried to tread on windows and androids toes which i don’t see working

            Its not that the OS is bad, its just the economics of the situation, I dont think theirs room for tixen to take off

          • MasterMuffin

            110% agreed!

          • Gab Tab

            Wow, very smart statement. You should work in a big company, any idea get should be reviewed by you. They’ll get very successful.

          • Shark Bait

            I’m waiting for Google to come get me lol!

          • wezi427

            Your statement is exactly what they are doing. In the emerging markets China and India, you have 2+ billion people. If Tizen is a success they definitely will distance themselves from Google.

  • dandroid13

    LOL, not this again… When you got nothing to write about you write a pointless article just to get some more traffic.

  • Shark Bait

    hmmmm a report based on a whole lot of rumours.

    We no nothing about Google and Samsung relationship, after the Motorola sale its probably stronger than ever. After all they make each other billions! I’m sure they love each other. Many partner companies also have conflicting interests, for example Intel pushes both chrome OS and windows, theirs no reason Samsung can push 2 platforms.

    We also no nothing about android silver, for all you know it could be Samsung idea. Maybe Google will share some of play store revenue and add revenue from each device, in return for cheaper phones and a better software experience. I’m sure that would make Samsung happy, and the others, and the customer.

    It just think its way too early to, and way to up in the air to be making bold claims like ” Android Silver, cannot be pleasing to Samsung”

    • Anonymousfella

      Exactly! All this speculation is useless at this point because the collaboration is helping both the companies. As long as that happens, this partnership will

      • Shark Bait

        True that! Google wont want to piss of sammy, and sammy wont want to
        piss off Google. It has to be one of the most lucrative business
        partnerships since wintel

      • hahaha

        Another biased article! Im tired of all these so called “editors” coming up with bs articles. Either they’re constantly banning Samsung or just writing articles like this. They have no proof of anything, don’t believe thes FOOLS!

        • Anonymousfella

          True it’s just conjecture at this point. Must be a slow news day.

  • wezi427

    Tizen is a threat. People on here know the difference between Android and Tizen. Most people that walk in to a store could care less what makes their phone work, as long as it does. Samsung is a brand that people recognize.

    • Bobby Wright

      “Most people that walk in to a store could care less what makes their phone work, as long as it does”
      True BUT..
      Once they realize their tizen phone can’t access the Play Store and has no Google core apps, how long do you think they will keep that device?

      • wezi427

        I agree with the Google core apps, but if Tizen has apps like Twitter, Facebook, etc. I think people wouldn’t care. I would need Google because of gMail, YouTube, etc. Depends on people and needs.

  • Bambang Hermanto

    Divided or united, what matters to me is affordability, availability, battery life of devices, customer service support, and prompt and continuous software updates.

    The Nexus devices are great, but only the 5 and the 1st gen 7 have made their way to Indonesia, and they are not as affordable as they are in US. Battery life? Not so good according to a friend of mine who has them both. Customer service support is good from LG. Asus? Yet to know. They do however have the last one tackled.

    Samsung devices are all available here. Affordability depends on the device classes, though in general they are overpriced considering their specs. Battery life is only impressive among the Note 2&3, and S4&5. They do however have good customer service support. Updates go as many as 2 or 3 times as I know, and that’s it.

    The way I see it, the Android market is dominated by Samsung here, followed by Oppo and Lenovo. There is barely any brand competition here, and I hate that. A good competition may bring down the crazy prices. Right now I so wish OnePlus One will soon be available here carrying the same price tag.