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.
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.
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.
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?