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Samsung is pulling another Amazon on Android, but this is even bigger

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(s amzn) 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(s goog). 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(s amzn) 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?

36 Responses to “Samsung is pulling another Amazon on Android, but this is even bigger”

  1. stormyparis

    that’s exactly what openness is about: the freedom to experiment with additional features and capabilities. Kudo do Android for allowing that, and to Samsung for taking advantage of it with very interesting innovations.

  2. Yes, but Samsung’s strength will be it’s downfall. Samsung has great product microvision in a macro world. Look at it’s “smart tv”, lotza bucks for multiple (and redundant) apps that have the central functionality of creating a sales platform for other vendors….isn’t this KrapWare? shure is

  3. > Thanks to Android, Samsung hasn’t needed to develop an operating system of its own.

    Neither had Android. Its Linux with sugga on top. Free innovation, like Samsung but also HTC and Moto, do are the driving force. Samsung HAS its own destiny and control with Android since they can do whatever the like to do with the full stack. Except for incompatibility. For that Samsung would leave OHA, give up on early access, Google Play and all the other services. They will not cause it gives no gain.

    Samsung expands to other platforms like TV with Android? Add sugga on top? Fine, that’s all inline with OHA goals – read Google. Welcome to a world full of Android far beyond mobile. Google services will run on Samsjng TV’s. Thats good news for Google, isn’t it?

  4. Tucson Food Guy

    I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy S4, but only for the hardware. I bought it on the Google Play Store as I did not want ANY Samsung Crap on my phone. I had the Samsung Version first, but then I returned it and got the GPE. Best move I made. Google makes Android Great and I have not found any Samsung App that I like better. So what I can’t wave at my phone, it never seemed to work very well anyway. Plus when it did work I had to use the Samsung Browser, no thank you.

  5. TheBasicMind

    “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?”

    That doesn’t sound like Samsung being clever to me, so much as Google being a bit dumb.

  6. Blake Mitchell

    Right now I think that all of this talk about Samsung moving off of Android or forking it is nonsense. MAYBE, they are preparing but they are still a long ways out. Samsung does not have the cloud services to compete against Google directly and I think the value proposition of a forked Android diminishes when you are phone making the value of a forked Android or Tizen based Galaxy greatly drop. On top of that there are still services that Samsung would need to replicate to get the developer support that Google is getting. Samsung Apps does not come close to Google Play (and neither does the Amazon App Store.) On top of all of that Google is continuing to improves design on core apps and bring those apps back in as proprietary apps. There may come a day when Samsung can effectively fork from Android, but it will not be in the next 2 years.

  7. Corrupted Mind

    I think some people are missing the point here. Samsung are not saying come to our fork of Android. They are saying buy Samsung because we have all the Google products you know and love AND we also have a series of exclusives and device tie ins that enhance your experience. In a sense, they are commoditising Google’s products and rebranding Android as Samsungland.

    Will Google be losing sleep over this? No. Samsung needs to leverage their enormous customer base in phones and get them onto TV’s, tablets and PCs, which is no mean feat. Samsung is fighting against other TV manufacturers in the Smart TV alliance with open and interoperable apps and Sony which is already leveraging its enormous customer base and software know how and devs in the Playstation world to leverage their own TV platform. IOS already has a huge head start in tablets and its struggling to have as great an impact in that crucial market. On PC it’s no where. So Google will probably be thinking that its web approach that is properly cross-platform allows it to beat Samsung and its devices approach.

  8. Fourthletter58

    HTC already did this with Sense, which they open sourced so developers could develop for Sense. It will make no difference to Android whatsoever, this is exactly the kind of innovation Google want to be happening on Android. If you think this is a fork then you really don’t understand software at all.
    Is Amazon’s fork of Android successful ? I thought everyone bought Kindles then put CyanogenMod on them ;-)

    • If you think everyone bought Kindles then put CyanogenMod on them, then you really don’t understand the Kindle at all. ;)

      I totally see your point, but using HTC isn’t a great example. Why would developers work on “Sense” apps for a company that’s been spiraling downward for 2 years? It makes far more “sense” to back a winning horse.

      I’m not saying that Samsung will pull this off but they’re putting all the right pieces into place and we should be aware of that.

      • Blake Mitchell

        They may be putting pieces in the right place, but they are not putting enough pieces in the right place. While doing that Google is actively trying to take away pieces, and is improving the pieces that Samsung is trying to play catch up on. It’s a theory that people love to talk about but it is not realistic to believe that Samsung can do this without it causing a huge hit to the quality of their products.

  9. The problem is, almost none of these Samsung features they’re opening to developers are worth a dang. The ones that would be useful (like multi-window on large tablets) Samsung has implemented in a totally ham-fisted way. Hopefully Google finds a way to do Windows-8 style multitasking in Android 5 (this spring? Android apps are already built to scale to many different sizes….this should be easy), and figures out a way to replicate Air-Play flawlessly. If they do, I can’t see any of these Samsung ‘features’ gaining that much loyalty.

  10. Richard Allen Yarrell

    Bottom line Samsung has earned it’s standing on the android platform today. They have been the clear overall leader of android since 2011 nobody has offered or came to market with anything worthwild.

    Market share doesn’t lie customers purchase what they like and what is best. Samsung owns over 42.8 % market share of the entire android platform with it’s closet competitor Lg at 6 % market share.

    Android is open source and Samsung has the right to do with it as it pleases just like all the other manufacturers in the android space.

    Clearly Google only cares about Google that’s why they purchased Motorola against there partners on the android platform. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    In the business world what good for Google goose must be good for the gander. Samsung has the right to move foward in this business just as Google does.

    Google wants to be the only player in the game but that’s not the case. Samsung offers better overall daily experience on there devices than boring and extremely dull stock android.

    Samsung brings much better software solutions and feature implementations far better than any silly stock handset. Samsung also has better storage and battery life options on all there products.

    At the end of the day Android would be in a bad place if Samsung didn’t exist. We would all be all walking around with the same silly stock android device with dull boring day to day features and experience.

    Plain and simple nothing beats Samsung period.

  11. Teagan Lewis

    Honestly, I much more interested in what changes occur in the Android market as Samsung continues to distance itself from Google.

    How would this affect other OEMs?
    Who would take over as the leading Android OEM?
    What would Google do?
    How would this affect Samsung?

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. Gregg Borodaty

    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.

  15. Braavosi

    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.

    • beenyweenies

      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.

    • 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).

    • @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.

      • “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!

        • Of course it’s open source. The definition is here: 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.

  16. Christian Ahlin

    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

    • 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

      • 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. :)

  17. 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.

  18. Nicholas Paredes

    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.