Samsung and their Fragile Relationship with Google

For Insiders I wrote a while back about Samsung’s precarious position in the market place. Samsung finds themselves between a rock and a hard place. It is not surprising that a bit of news surfaced stating that the next version of their Galaxy Gear will run Tizen not Android. Tizen is a joint venture OS between Intel and Samsung. Several other big name firms are involved with Tizen as well but Samsung is the largest to date said to actually take it to market.

Samsung’s move to run Tizen on their smart watch platform, if it does indeed turn out to be true, would not be a surprise. As many PC OEMs will attest shipping someone else’s software can only take a hardware company so far. When the day comes where a segment of the hardware industry becomes a commodity it makes life for hardware companies difficult. Samsung is a hardware company who desperately needs to become a software and services company. If history is our guide then it favors software and services companies. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp emphasizes this point.

Samsung is not in a position to control their own destiny. Samsung’s challenge is that they struggle for customer loyalty. Currently, there is little reason for a customer to choose next years Samsung phone when they upgrade. If there is a better Android device on the market that catches their eye they are equally going to consider that device as well. What Samsung, and other Google Android OEMs, do is help drive loyalty to Google and Android but not necessarily to their brand. Apple does not suffer from this problem since their loyalty is built on more than their brand but on their ecosystem of not just hardware but software and services. This is why Samsung appears to be teetering on the edge of going vertical as much as they can without fully leaving the Google Android ecosystem. Samsung needs Google. Yet they need to not need them for their mobile group to thrive.

A Tizen based Galaxy Gear could be a step in this direction. If Samsung were to release an SDK around this Tizen Galaxy Gear product and get a critical mass of developers and apps creating applications for a product unique to Samsung then it could be the foundation for a Samsung ecosystem. It is worth noting that Samsung does not run Android on their Smart TVs. These Smart TVs do have apps but a critical mass of apps or developers exist for the Samsung Smart TV platform. Mobile is inherently where Samsung needs to have a critical mass of developers. If Samsung can’t figure this out and destined to be stuck in the rut of a hardware company then very troubled times are ahead for their smartphone and tablet operations.

Samsung does not have a services business to support forking Android. Amazon does. Xiaomi does and both have been successful at taking Android and building a services platform on top of it. Similarly, Microsoft could have a strong business case to layer their services on top of an AOSP implementation of their own. I’m yet to see something similar from Samsung. Which leaves them in a position to have to “platformize” Google’s version of Android as best they can without over stepping their boundaries as a Google certified OEM.

What we must watch with regard to Samsung is how they make steps in this direction on devices for which they don’t have to go through Google’s certification process. Products like their TVs, Smart Watches, or even new product categories, that are ecosystem boosters, are where they can start to lay a foundation to grow and foster their own platform.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

8 thoughts on “Samsung and their Fragile Relationship with Google”

  1. Seems like a lot of the public agreements and collaborations between Google and Samsung are supposed to put the Tizen romours to rest. But it seems you don’t think so. Interesting take, here.


  2. Should the mobile industry go “thermonuclear”, Samsung is the only company that can make the whole device from their own in stock parts, from CPU to display to radios, to RAM. I’m not too worried for them.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but no other company, including Apple, can do that.

  3. samsung needs to concentrate on the lower end of the market and make better android software because the ecosystems wars are over

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