I’ve just watched last night’s Samsung Galaxy S4 release event and while it was shockingly corny with sexist undertones, the one thing I found really interesting is what wasn’t said. Google was not mentioned a single time, and there was only a single passing reference to Android, and that in relation to a security feature.
Samsung has positioned itself as the smartphone company with largest market share and second largest profits, and is now using a boat load of branded, “S whatever”, mainly software, features to differentiate themselves not only from the other Android vendors but from it’s heritage. As Samsung progresses along this trajectory and becomes more and more confident then there could come a point when Google’s control over Android is snapped. If the dominant Android vendor reaches that point and decides it can pull an Amazon by living off a forked and heavily skinned version of Android along with a proprietary store then that leaves Google in a very tricky position. Do they let the one successful company in the ecosystem take all the glory without getting any credit, or do they try to reign in the skinning and supplementary features in an attempt to retain a measure of control and relevance?
The waters are further muddied this summer when Samsung will release a Tizen based smartphone. Tizen is another open source operating system based around Linux and WebKit with which Samsung has been involved for years but gained an important ally when Intel signed up — Intel has famously been shut out of the mobile generation and is eager to make up for lost ground. If Samsung is able to focus customer attention on the “S features” and can offer them on all their mobile platforms then the operating system becomes fungible and ultimately irrelevant, leaving Samsung a big winner and in complete control of it’s own destiny while Google is left supporting a bunch of loss-making phone companies and cheap Chinese knockoffs.