Samsung, which has ridden Android (s goog) to success with the Galaxy S, is reportedly shifting its focus to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 (s msft) in 2011. According to a report in iMobile.cn, 63 percent of smartphones built by Samsung will be WP7 devices, followed by Android at 32 percent and its own Bada OS at 6 percent. This follows on a report last week that Samsung was internally focusing on WP7.
Just a few months ago, Samsung said it was “prioritizing” on Android, which made sense considering it was on the way to selling 5 million Galaxy S units. But with the launch of Windows Phone 7, has come out in support of Microsoft, and generally has one of the best WP7 devices available in the Focus.
So if the latest reports are true, why would Samsung prioritize its resources on Windows Phone 7? I have to wonder if there’s a little Android fatigue in the ecosystem. With so many smartphone makers now in the market for Android devices, it might make sense for a company like Samsung to look for new opportunities. We know the smartphone market is expanding greatly, with a majority of phone customers expected to have a smartphone by next year. For handset makers, pinning their development plans on one platform while most every other manufacturer does the same may just be increasingly tough sledding. It doesn’t mean Samsung gives up on Android; it just keeps its options open.
Looking at Windows Phone 7, one wouldn’t expect it to command so much attention from Samsung right away. It has very little currently-installed base and it’s unclear what the worldwide appetite is for the OS. (Gartner (s IT) forecasts WP7 with just a 4 percent marketshare in 2014) Microsoft is more restrictive on handset manufacturers so they can’t add the kinds of custom interfaces like TouchWiz which can differentiate one manufacturer’s handset from another. And WP7 requires a licensing fee, something Android’s OS doesn’t have. Also, it’s unclear why Samsung would so clearly favor WP7 over its own proprietary OS Bada, which actually seems to be selling well.
Samsung has gotten an intimate look at the OS and may be impressed with its prospects. Or, it may be convinced that Microsoft is going to spend big on the platform for some time, just like it willed the Xbox 360 to success. The legal uncertainty around Android could also be playing a small role. Or it just may be that Samsung sees less of a scrum of manufacturers hovering around WP7 and understands this is a chance to ride it to potential success, while still supporting Android.
I wouldn’t make too much of reports that Android losing support. The platform is still taking off in a big way, and all indications seem to suggest it should be a top seller and could potentially topple Symbian in a few years. But even with that promise, it’s not the only source of growth in the market. All the platforms are still growing, and faded OS makers like Microsoft have a chance to really pick up the pace again if they execute. It just reminds me again that while we like to talk about the ascendence of Android or the strength of iOS, it’s still early in this smartphone race. Yes, a lot of sales trends already seem to be in place but considering the iPhone and Android devices have only been with us for the last three years, there’s room for more changes in the next three years. Maybe this is what Samsung is saying with its reported interest in Windows Phone 7.
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