Samsung forgot something last night

March 15, 2013
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Whether you loved or hated last night’s Galaxy S4 unboxing, it was memorable. It was also, as our host mentioned, not a normal product launch event. Actors, pop-up stages, an orchestra… it was a scene, no doubt. With all the showcasing of the new Galaxy phone, one thing was lost. Samsung neglected one little detail that made a big impression on some.

They didn’t mention Android.

Save for using it to bolster the security of their Knox feature, Samsung made absolutely no mention of Android. We’ve mentioned time and again that Samsung is growing increasingly separate from Android, which probably puts Google on notice that they should take Samsung as a threat. This is not a Tizen debate (yet), but the omission of Android from the presentation is telling.

What we can learn from that sleight is that Samsung sees Android as little more than a means to their end. To Samsung, the device and what they add on to it matters, not Android. It comes with the latest version of Jelly Bean, so the S4 is not behind by any means. Still, no mention of Android.

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Unpacked

The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a bevy of features that could make even the most tech savvy person giddy. The “unpacking” event gave us feature after feature of new, exciting stuff to do with our device. Then again, quite a bit of their “innovation” is already present in Android. Why, if not to become increasingly proprietary, would Samsung do such a thing as mimic a service present in Android? Why cannibalize what is already present if not to make it your own?

Samsung comprises a lot of overall Android sales, which seems to have both a positive and negative affect. Android is enjoying success due to Samsung’s efforts, but also seems to be suffering their efforts to be proprietary. It’s a strange catch 22, and in a way… Google asked for it. By making Android open source, you expose yourself to these types of things. The most distinct example is Amazon, who seems to treat Android just as Android treats Linux.

Samsung is right

Is Samsung wrong? Should we goad them into guilt for all this? Not for a minute. Samsung is a runaway train on the Android railway, but they’re the masters of their own fate. We can’t rightly say what direction Android will take, much less whether or not Samsung is right or wrong. What we can take away from this is that Google is right to protect themselves.

The acquisition of Motorola was a smart one for Google, and probably had more than a little to do with Samsung. That thermonuclear war we’re so fond of bringing up was maybe closer to home that anyone realized. Samsung is pulling away from Android, ever so slowly, every time they “innovate”. Each new service cannibalized represents another step away from center, and while Google is probably concerned with that, they now have a little more control. In Motorola, they control the supply chain. In an odd twist of fate, Google has become the Samsung of the future much faster than Samsung could make themselves a Google copycat.

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The gap widens

Whatever you want to call it… copying, cannibalizing, stealing… those services Samsung borrows from Android are a means to break away and build their own ecosystem. That’s a tall order, and one which may not pay dividends as they hope. Breaking into a world with such established entities like Android or iOS is tough. From a business perspective, it makes sense: control the consumption flow, control the cash flow. If Samsung can get users to shop with them rather than at the Play Store, they’ve capitalized on an opportunity. It’s an understandable move, but perhaps a misguided one. Even if done within Android, it’s not an easy task.

Samsung will bring up that they’re on good footing with Google, and I don’t doubt that is what they believe. Both have a vested interest in one another, and want the other to succeed… right now. There will be a few major tells to let us know if the Samsung-Google partnership is in trouble. If Samsung ever omits the Play Store from its device, we’ll know the party is over. What is on offer right now from Samsung is curious, but not yet dangerous to Google.

Tizen or bust?

While this isn’t a Tizen issue, Tizen still presents a problem. Samsung may view Their new OS as their trump card, but it’s also a card Google could play first. The terms of membership in the Open Handset Alliance may be troublesome down the line for Samsung. With their involvement in Tizen, Samsung may be encroaching on some Android territory. There is no reason, currently, for Google to exercise their right to threaten any sanctions against Samsung. There is a precedent for that, but when two companies get to this level, things aren’t so cut and dry. Both have far too much wrapped up in one another, so simply threatening to cut the cord is a tenuous option.

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System of control

Each time Samsung “innovates”, something becomes clear: Android is their stage, but they think their talent is what people come to see. They may be right, but should tread lightly. Samsung is doing a bang-up job of delivering on great products that have some awesome function built in. Nobody is going to argue that they have some cool features, but that’s not the issue. The issue is the only thing that really matters… Android.

Without an operating system, the device is nothing. We’re not saying Samsung should have made the entire presentation about how awesome Android is, but a simple mention of the operating system and how the Galaxy S4 will enhance it would have been in good taste, if they are indeed on good terms with Google. The open source nature of Android is asking that you take advantage of it, but Samsung is taking it a little too far.

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