Google is trying to drive loyalty to Android, not just Galaxy

Google made a series of announcements at I/O relating to Android and for me, one of the big themes was Google exercising greater control over both the version of Android that runs on smartphones and tablets and the new flavors that will run in cars, TVs and wearable devices. Having seen some fairly Google-light (and Google-absent) versions of Android make up much of the growth in the Android base in recent years, Google seems keen to re-establish core Google services at the heart of Android going forward, both in emerging and mature markets. But another thing Google seems to be trying to do is give people a reason to choose Android itself across a range of devices, rather than a particular flavor of Android.

The irony with Android is, even as it takes the world by storm, very few users actually have strong associations with the Android brand or experience. In the very early days in the US, many people saw the Droid and Android brands as synonymous, with Verizon’s various collaborations with Motorola representing what Android meant to users seeing an emerging dichotomy between iPhones on AT&T and Droids on Verizon. That early boost for the Droid brand was also a boon to Android as a whole, sparking strong demand some time after the fairly lackluster initial response to the first Android devices, but doing little to boost the Android brand per se.

Over the last several years, Samsung’s Galaxy line has come to occupy a similar position in the minds of consumers, not just in the US but in all mature markets as it relates to Android. Rather than choosing Android devices generically, many people are choosing “a Galaxy” as if the two were synonymous. Driven by Samsung’s enormous marketing machine, this close association of the Galaxy brand with what is in reality a broad category of Android phones has been bad news for Samsung’s major competitors on Android, such as HTC, LG and Sony. But it’s also arguably been bad news for Google, because the primary brand loyalty in some consumers’ minds has been to Samsung rather than Google. To the extent consumers have bought products from multiple consumer electronics categories, such as smartphones, tablets, TVs and smartwatches, they’ve likely sought an all-Samsung experience but not an all-Google experience.

In addition to Samsung’s efforts to promote its own ecosystem, this is partly Google’s fault. Google’s approach to cross-device integration has been, to some extent, to abstract that integration from the OS itself, in a clear contrast with both Apple and Microsoft, which have sought to bake integration deeply into their mobile and PC operating systems. Even as integration deepens, Google has taken services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps and Google Now and made them available on many devices, even those running iOS rather than Android. There was little reason then, to worry about choosing an all-Google device experience, when essentially any device would run those core Google services reasonably well if users wanted to use them. As long as Google’s objective was merely maximizing the proliferation of Google services, this was an appropriate strategy. But it no longer seems to content to pursue this approach.

This year’s I/O keynote was the culmination of months of effort from Google to reclaim the Android experience from Samsung and to a lesser extent other OEMs and to stamp the Android brand clearly on all the various devices it will power. There have been signs this was coming for several months. The introduction of a “powered by Android” label on the boot-up screen on Android devices back in March was one step and the pressure Google allegedly put on Samsung to tone down the UI customizations on its devices was another. But the introduction of Android Wear was perhaps the clearest signal Google wanted to change things, since that platform doesn’t allow for any of the UI customizations Android on smartphones and tablets permits. Google services and not OEM services are front and center on these devices – the voice control is Google’s and not S Voice, the calendar will be the Google Calendar and not the LG calendar app, and the weather widget will be Google’s too.

The additional details that emerged at I/O around Android Wear just reinforce this perception. Whereas Samsung’s smartwatches to date have been designed to work exclusively with Samsung smartphones, Android Wear is by definition OEM-agnostic within the Android world. Samsung’s Gear Live, LG’s G Watch and Motorola’s Moto 360 will all work with any recent Android devices, not just those made by their respective manufacturers. Google is attempting to create an Android ecosystem that trumps those from Samsung and other Android OEMs.

The additional flavors of Android announced at I/O take this even further, with Android Auto and Android TV both adopting the Android brand and focusing on vanilla flavors of Android for these new domains, while emphasizing compatibility with Android as a whole. Android Wear, Android TV and Android Auto represent the first attempts by Google to really take integration beyond device-agnostic services and deeper into the operating system itself. Beyond Android, Google is also integrating Chromebooks into this integration picture, baking deeper integration into that operating system too, with unlocking, app porting and other features binding the two operating systems together. Again, this seems like an attempt to get users to choose not just Google services, but Google-powered devices as well.

The big question is whether Google will succeed in these efforts. Marketing services and operating systems is notoriously tough, as Microsoft learned the hard way when it initially tried to promote Windows Phone itself rather than specific phones running it. Microsoft eventually shifted to promoting specific devices instead, giving consumers a concrete call to action, and that may be one reason why it created the Surface too, as a company-owned instantiation of Windows 8. But Google is selling its own hardware business, and seems keen to move away from creating its own hardware in the various categories powered by Android. Stamping the Android brand on various devices may help, but it’s going to be a tough sell, especially when going up against Samsung’s far greater marketing spend and specific products.

Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

20 thoughts on “Google is trying to drive loyalty to Android, not just Galaxy”

  1. Android is showing how tired and stressed a foundation it’s sitting on.

    In 8 months, there is no response from the entire Android ecosystem to Apple not only developing a 64-bit mobile CPU, but moving its entire mobile OS and its entire productivity and creativity suites to 64-bit as well.

    In 8 months there is no response from the entire Android ecosystem to Apple’s TouchID. Yes, Samsung has some copy-cat iteration, but it’s been hacked and it’s unreliable.

    iOS 8 is around the corner and from what I saw at Google I/O, Apple is pulling far ahead with features like Continuity and Handoff, and frameworks and languages like Metal and Swift.

    Android is all about fragmentation in the name of diversity and choice. But that diversity and choice has led to an inability to keep up with Apple’s focused and closed developments.

    We’re crossing over a point where Apple’s closed ecosystem is so large and profitable that it affords Apple certain advantages that can’t be replicated. First: Control. Second: Scale. Apple has 800 million reasons to invest heavily in 64-bit architecture and define new limits in mobile computing performance. Apple can move its entire stack to a 64-bit architecture because it doesn’t suffer from fragmentation. If you’re a mobile CPU manufacturer, what exactly is your addressable market for 64-bit CPUs considering there’s no 64-bit version of Android and even if there was, only a few percentage points of that entire market use the latest version of Android at any given time.

    The walled garden approach is winning. There’s no doubt anymore. We’ve reached the point where Apple’s walled garden has grown into a rainforest that creates its own weather and sustains its own environment.

    While Google flails about with confused R&D efforts and an utter lack of focus, Apple continues to set a bar the Android ecosystem can’t hope to achieve in any reasonable amount of time.

    Here’s a piece I wrote on this subject earlier this week:

    1. At Google I/O they announced that Android L will have 64 bit support and a whole slew of new and improved capabilities. So I would discount them just yet. 64 bit is new to mobile, but it’s ancient in computers. Not an insurmountable hill.

      “The walled garden approach is winning” – Except to those that choose not to be walled, fortunately (or unfortunately) Google is keeping their system open. Fortunately, because there will be valid competing choices, unfortunately because Google is the only open system in cell phones and I wish there were even more open competition.

      “creates its own weather and sustains its own environment.” – And it’s own reality! You know, isn’t the whole world like Beverly Hills?

      1. Is Google really keeping their system open? Sure, they love to use “open” as a marketing term, but moves I’ve seen in recent months to me indicate Google moving slowly away from the ideological fantasy of “open” that was present at the beginnings of Android. They’re trying to wrestle back control of Android. I remember reading about Google forcing Samsung to less-heavily customize their Android layer, and keep it more in line with plain Android. The AOSP certainly doesn’t get nearly the same kind of love from Google that we saw in something like Android L. Google Play Services as well as all of Googles other Android services remain exclusive to “Google Experience” Android.

        If Android were truly still the “open” fantasy they portrayed in 2009, then we wouldn’t hear all the stories about the questionable tactics Google uses to force OEM’s into “compliance.” The things that go on behind the scenes of Android are far from the Kumbaya image Google likes to pretend. A lot of their tactics remind me of 90’s Microsoft.

        I think a far more suitable term for Google’s approach to Android today is licensed freely. Not truly open. There’s still a single authority in charge of the platform, keeping OEMs in line with their demands.

        1. All really good points! I agree that “licensed freely” is a more apt term.
          It’s the evil carriers and OEM’s that place any artificial restrictions on Android.

          Still, ALL Apps are accepted in the Play Store, other than malware, which is illegal. The filesystem is accessible, and perhaps even more importantly… multiple OEM’s mean multiple products with multiple hardware capabilities.

          You may already know from my posts that I consider Apple to have far exceeded 90’s MS. Also, don’t mention Kumbaya about anyone without including Apple. 😉

  2. I will, for now, stick by my gut feeling that real people care far, far less about “open” and “choices” than techies usually assume. They don’t even know what the heck “open” means – for them, it just means being able to get the (very very few) applications they want. “Choice” means the color of the device and the size of the monthly bill, not software or services beyond the most common ones. In the end, it’s still a sense of satisfaction with the gizmo in the hand that drives sales to individuals.

    There will certainly be a lot of cheap Android devices sold, especially in emerging markets. And 95% of those buyers will not think of “Android” or “Google” per se when they plunk down their cash. They will think “Facebook” and “text my friends”.

    1. ” real people care far, far less about “open” and “choices” than techies usually assume.”
      No question! Nor should “real people” care…

      What can’t be neglected is the techies in any field keep the experts and manufacturers honest.

  3. Hey there would you mind letting me know which web host you’re working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a honest price? Cheers, I appreciate it!

  4. My programmer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on numerous websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard good things about Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it? Any kind of help would be really appreciated!

  5. I am not positive the place you’re getting your information, but good topic. I must spend some time finding out more or understanding more. Thank you for excellent information I was searching for this info for my mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *