As Samsung built up a global audience for its Android phones and tablets, it pushed internal development on its own Galaxy features and functions. Now that third-party developers can code for them, Samsung is gaining more control over its flavor of Android.

Galaxy Note 3 and pen

As much as Google likes and touts that Android is open, that freedom may come with the cost of some control over the platform. Amazon may have started the first truly successful “fork” of Android, but Samsung is going after the whole place setting.

Samsung kicked off its first Developers Conference on Monday and based on the keynote message, I wouldn’t be too happy if I were Google. This is no small effort from Samsung, which sells the most Android devices by a large margin compared to its peers. An announced 1,300 event attendees are on site in San Francisco and heard that Samsung is releasing five new SDKs for various devices ranging from phones to tablets to televisions.

Galaxy Note 3 Action Memo

To give an idea of what Samsung is doing, just look at the new Mobile SDK: It supports Samsung’s pen, gestures, multiwindow and motion features with 800 APIs available to developers. If that number doesn’t grab you consider what Samsung said about opportunities for developers. Simply by adding the digital pen to a phone in the first and subsequent Galaxy Note handsets, more 1,800 pen-enabled apps were created. And the company sells two televisions every second. Clearly, Samsung is trying to entice developer attention for its platform.

Wait, isn’t Samsung’s platform Android? Absolutely! Samsung has effectively built an individual, closed environment of apps and features on top of the open Android. Amazon has done much the same with its Fire OS on Kindle Fire tablets but the approach was a little different.

Amazon didn’t start out with Google Android, but instead used the Android Open Source Project — software without core Google apps and services — for the Kindle Fire. In contrast, Samsung used the full Google Android software to build up a huge global audience and now it’s going to make sure it, not Google, owns those customers. I barely heard Android mentioned in the keynote, in fact.

Samsung’s approach doesn’t just end with its popular phones and tablets though.

Samsung Smart TV


As my colleague Janko Roettgers reported earlier, Samsung’s new Multiscreen SDK applies to another Samsung product — televisions:

“The new SDK, once adopted by developers, will make  it possible to press a button on your phone to launch an online video stream, or even a game, on your TV. Sound familiar? That’s not really a coincidence — but Samsung thinks that it can one-up its competition.”

That last phrase is central to what I heard during the Samsung Developer Conference Keynote. Samsung has clearly become successful and profitable by pushing Android devices as well as adding its own add-on features and functions. That’s clearly not good enough for the company now because Android by itself can only take it so far and doesn’t give Samsung total control over its own destiny. In addition to the above mentioned SDK’s, Samsung also offered ones for Multiscreen Gaming, Smart TVs and KNOX, the company’s enterprise grade security software.

At this point, Samsung is taking advantage of its dominant position as the Android device leader to become the “de facto” Android phone and crush any remaining competition. And I’m not sure what Google can do about it save for pulling more and more key functions out of the Android software and instead make them standalone apps in the Google Play store. Even if it does, the damage is already done from where I stand: Samsung has built its mobile business on Android and can now push forward with less “help” from Google.

Air Touch on Galaxy S 4

As long as Samsung remains a helpful partner in the Android ecosystem and properly licenses Google apps and services for devices, it’s not as if Google can wrest Android away from Samsung. And Google has zero control over the extra features that Samsung has added to devices such as digital inking with the S-Pen, S-Voice for text input, Samsung Wallet for payments and gesture-based navigation using sensors.

The overall strategy Samsung has employed so far is clever: Build up a massive global audience for products using someone else’s software while also creating your own apps to start taking the place of integral Android features across smartphones, tablets, televisions and even smartwatches. Thanks to Android, Samsung hasn’t needed to develop an operating system of its own. Why should it when it can slowly transition developers and users to create software for its own hardware?

  1. Nicholas Paredes Monday, October 28, 2013

    Ouch. I would say that the implications are larger if they can leverage Tizen to power Samsung Surface and other desktop products.

    Both Microsoft and Google will be wondering what just happened. Frankly, I would rather that my phone or tablet could accomplish more work and seamlessly integrate with televisions and stereos. Samsung is positioned well for this world.

  2. We have already seen Samsung making some moves to this closed eco-system with their new Smartwatch and it wouldn’t surprise if they continue down this path to drive purchases into adjacencies. Want feature X? Sorry, that only works with our TV or Blu-ray player.

    It worked well for Sony…until it didn’t work, so hopefully Samsung is paying attention to the mistakes Sony made.

  3. Christian Ahlin Monday, October 28, 2013

    Googles taking the back door with Chromecast.
    Why do I want a €1500 “SMART” TV when I can buy a €150 TV with RaspberryPi or Chromecast, I think they will fall on that you have to choose universe (to gain benifits)
    Microsoft (is loosing on all fronts. legacy business impacting future business is their last hope)
    Apple (is Apple is media/consultants is small)
    Samsung (although big, will match all functionality with Google, but miss on quality. It will be a bad voice assistant, bad calendar etc)
    Google (will take it to the bank) due to openness, creativity and drive.

    And in a mix-universe, I would say Google as bottom line is best

    1. are you comparing features of a $1500+ smart tv to a $150+ tv? i have a $1500 samsung tv (paid 999 on sale) but it’s a 51″ Plasma 3D TV with a dual core processor and built in wifi, if you can get a 51″ 3d plasma tv for 150 euros please let me know otherwise keep your chromecast

      1. Bottom line, those features will become available on Chromecast. Take it from a guy who paid $2000AUD for a 55″ LED 3d tv. That is what makes Chromecast so popular. If Google where to make it open so that anyone could access it, we would see a lot more support for it. But it’s new, and it will eventually get there. Sure the viewing quality ultimately falls to what kind of tv you have but it is the network of apps, programs, vendors and consumers that’ll make this cheap product worthy.

        Also Android 4.4 KitKat is rumored to bring Miracast/similar services in its upgrade.

        If this all happens, it won’t matter what TV you have or who your manufacturer is. Android will support you and Chromecast ensures that iOS and the Chrome browser support you. :)

        1. Chromecast so popular?

  4. Those under the illusion of Google and Android being about “openness” should give this a read: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/10/googles-iron-grip-on-android-controlling-open-source-by-any-means-necessary/

    1. @stnes

      there are people that complain android is fragmented and has issues supplying features to all there phones. then when they try to fix it by removing functionality from the OS itself and put it into standalone apps and google play services, now people like you complain that it “isn’t really open”… you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The big part of what an operating system IS is still open and anyone can use it. Quit spreading stupid FUD and move on.

      1. “The big part of what an operating system IS is still open and anyone can use it.”
        Is it open, can you show me your commit?
        Open source project with committers from only one company isn’t open source!

        1. Of course it’s open source. The definition is here: http://opensource.org/docs/osd The Android operating system fits that definition just fine.

          What you’re asking for is something different, an open development community. Android has never been that. I think Mozilla has something in the works if that’s a deal-breaker for you.

  5. I disabled all of the Samsung-branded apps on my Galaxy S4. Google already has all my information, why would I give it to another multinational?

    Plus, the Samsung apps seem to be pale imitations of the corresponding Google apps, and marketed to the kind of people who want to have some kind of “digital life”, with Samsung’s hand in their wallet.

    Not my cup o’ tea.

    1. That’s the thing. Samsung is not only really late to this party of core apps and services, but their software SUCKS. I caved and bought a GS4 for the hardware, but the TW software is utter garbage. Never mind things like “Samsung Wallet,” I would never trust this company with that level of control over my money and digital life.

      Good luck with that, Samsung.

    2. The illusion of choice is actually the trojan horse at play. Sure you can disable those apps and choose Google. Go ahead! Just keep buying our phones! What do you think will happen once Samsung effectively kills off competition? They finalize the fork, turn off Google services, and effectively take over Android. The majority of the market(the one that doesn’t include tech geeks) won’t care. They never bought an “Android” device in the first place. They bought a Samsung smart phone (note the lack of Android anywhere in their announcements).

  6. Gregg Borodaty Monday, October 28, 2013

    Since you’ve spent a lot of time with the Chromebooks, where do you see Chrome OS fitting into all of this? I feel that Google will eventually migrate to Chrome as its core operating system for all devices and will allow Android apps to run inside of it. It just doesn’t make sense for Google to support two mobile operating systems, but then again, Google doesn’t always do things that make sense.

  7. If Google would put a MicroSD card in Nexus devices, they would sell many more devices. I buy Samsung because of the MicroSD. There are plenty of good reasons to include a MicroSD slot. Google is arrogant and stupid for not including it!

    1. MicroSD card is history mate.You will see, even Samsung will make phones without slots.If you don’t know why, just google…;)

  8. As long as Google has Google Play, they own all the cards. I love my GS3 but I could easily switch to a MotoX

  9. Rocky Stefano Monday, October 28, 2013

    Typical mistakes by Samsung made by other American competitors. It might work in Asia but not anywhere else.

  10. Really not that simple. In order for Samsung to fork as you are implying, they would have to leave the AOSP. Google was actually very clever when they structured the program. They engrained a compatibility requirement into it that essentially states that, if you fork the AOSP, you cannot use any AOSP OEM’s or carriers.

    They also enacted that apps have to maintain compatibility with the main branch. In order to keep control of that, google has extended its services api’s to keep developers tied to the play store out of sheer convenience. Samsung is trying to replicate these to little avail. Also, google apps are generally the best on devices. Samsung’s apps are viewed as bloat.

    Essentially, google still has a great deal of control over android as they continue to replace now dying or non updated AOSP apps with closed source google apps to ward off the threat from Samsung. It was more of a contingency plan really. All they have to do to counter these api’s that Samsung is adding is make native support for a great deal of these things on open standards. Developers will always support the open standard and all of Samsungs competitors will as well.

    Finally, you have to remember that the mobile industry is very cyclical. It wasn’t more than five years ago that Nokia and RIM ran the show. Also consider that LG and Sony are steadily growing their android sales and turning profits. Samsung may have some company up top if that continues.


Comments have been disabled for this post