Samsung Building a Platform Without an OS

For the last 20+ years, the traditional thinking in the tech industry has been that in order to have any real power and influence, you had to have an operating system. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google have turned their OS offerings into platforms, which could then be leveraged to provide additional revenue-generating services, as well as drive the direction and application agenda for other companies who wanted to access the users of a particular OS.

In an effort to follow that strategy, we’ve witnessed a number of companies try, unsuccessfully, to reach a position of power and control in the tech industry by building or buying operating systems of their own. From Blackberry, to HP and LG (with WebOS), to Samsung (with Tizen), there have been numerous efforts to try to replicate that OS-to-platform strategy.

Over the last year or so, however, we’ve begun to see the rise of platforms that are built to be independent from an OS. Prominent among these are Amazon, with Alexa, Facebook with, well, Facebook, and most recently, Samsung with a whole set of services that, while initially focused on their hardware, actually reflect a more holistic view of a multi-connection, multi-device world.

Interestingly, even many of the traditional OS vendors are starting to spend more time focusing on these “metaplatform” strategies, as they recognize that the value of an OS-only platform is quickly diminishing. Each of the major OS vendors, for example, is placing increased emphasis on their voice-based assistants—most of which are available across multiple traditional OS boundaries—and treating them more like the OS-based platforms of old.

Moving forward, I suspect we will see more machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI)-based services that may connect to the voice-based assistants or the traditional OS’s, but will actually be independent of them. From intelligent chatbots, that enable automated tech support, to sales and other common services, through smart news and media-delivery applications, these AI-based services are going to open up a sea of new opportunities for these “new” platform players.

Another key new service will likely be built around authentication and digital identity capabilities. This will serve not only as a first log-in of the day, but function as an identity gateway through e-commerce, online banking, secure communications, and many other key services that require verification and authentication of one’s identity.[pullquote]While some OS-independent platform strategies have been known for some time, the recent Samsung S8 launch event unveiled the first real glimpse of what Samsung may have in mind going forward.[/pullquote]

While some of these OS-independent platform strategies have been known for some time, the recent Samsung S8 launch event unveiled the first real glimpse of what Samsung may have in mind going forward. Because of the company’s extensive range of not only consumer tech products, such as smartphones, tablets, wearables and PCs, but also TVs and other consumer electronics, along with white goods like connected appliances, Samsung is uniquely positioned to deliver the most comprehensive connected hardware (and connected home) story of almost any company in the world. In fact, with the recent purchase of Harman—a major automotive component supplier—they can even start to extend their reach into connected cars.

To date, the company hasn’t really leveraged this potential position of power, but it looks like they’re finally starting to do so. Samsung Pass, for example, moves beyond the simple (though critical) capability of digital payments offered in Samsung Pay, to a complete multi-factor biometric-capable identity and vertification solution. Best of all, it appears to be compatible with the FIDO Alliance standard for the passing of identity credentials between devices and across web services, which is going to be a critical capability moving forward.

On a more concrete level, the Bixby Assistant on the S8, of course, provides the kind of voice-based assistant mentioned previously, but it also potentially ties in with other Samsung hardware. So, for example, you will eventually be able to tell Bixby on your Samsung phone to control other Samsung-branded devices or, through their new Samsung Connect Home or other SmartThings hub device, other non-Samsung devices. While other companies do offer similar types of smart home hubs, none have the brand reach nor the installed base of branded devices that Samsung does.

As with any single-branded effort to dominate in the tech world, Samsung can’t possibly make a significant impact without reaching out proactively to other potential partners (and even competitors) on the device side in order to make its connected device platform viable. Still, because of its enormous footprint across so many aspects of households around the world, Samsung now possesses a bigger potential to become a disruptor in the platform war than its earlier OS-based efforts with Tizen might have suggested.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

10 thoughts on “Samsung Building a Platform Without an OS”

  1. The idea is intriguing, but it’s facing significant issues:

    1- software/services is a whole different skills/culture than hardware. Even Apple arguably has been and still is struggling is software: they had to buy OS X, iTunes, Siri, originally misread apps on the iPhone… even today, Apple’s cloud services are mostly inferior. Maybe Samsung can pull it off, they did show they could learn phone design (both that it matters, and how to do it), and do show occasional flashes of strategic and/or execution brilliance lost in a sea of misdirected or bad software efforts (KNOX, multi-windows vs duplicating Google’s apps and early Sense), one can unlock their Windows PC from their Galaxy phone…

    2- the whole idea that competing OEMs will rally around one of their peer’s standards feels preposterous. The ecosystem warden will always have an edge in choosing areas of focus and knowing of new features beforehand. Unless there’s a lot of transparency and maybe even of collegiality at the warden level, I don’t see LG and Huawei abdicating the possibility to differentiate, nor having the means to embrace and extend. There’s a reason Windows and Android killed proprietary OSes, HERE Maps moved to a collegial model… actually 2 reasons: scale/networks effects, and a clear layering of ecosystem warden vs stakeholders. Symbian and PalmOS belated move to open-source did nothing for them, at best you sign on ready-to-backstab 2nd-rate freeriders, at worst… no one much.

    Maybe Samsung can pull it off on their own. At least, contrary to Apple, they also cover midrange even sometimes low-end (they’ve got 3 tablets lines and 3 main smartphone lines, in several sizes each, I assume TVs and appliances follow the same broad pattern) so the lock-in won’t hurt as bad. They’ve also got Tizen for when Android isn’t required.

    The task seems momentous though, with a lot of learning along the way. Samsung’s smart TVs have just be shown to be not only very hackable, but potential trojan horses to a user’s whole home network (that’s mitigated by the fact that all smart TVs, actually all smart appliances, are probably vulnerable to similar exploits); Samsung’s “bonus features” when their smartwatches are used with a Galaxy phone mostly cost them the “recommended” spot for use with other phones….

    And in the mean time, the rest of the industry will either try to fragment and control the same features, or to unite behind open standards. I wouldn’t hesitate much as to what’s better for users.

    1. “Maybe Samsung can pull it off on their own. At least, contrary to Apple, they also cover midrange even sometimes low…” he says while ignoring the fact that Tizen and Bigby and Android and everything Samsung has ever made have either been purchased or blatantly ripped-off from others.

      1. I’m curious, how does the cited snippet (about Samsung covering low and mid range too) pertain to Samsung buying or copying stuff (your contention, not mine) ? I’m also ignoring the sun rises in the morning, and puppies are cuter than kittens, which is about as relevant to your remark ?

        1. You make the ridiculous claim that “Apple arguably has been and still is struggling in software…”

          Then you bloviate that Samsung is going it alone with all their awesome homegrown innovation.

          You live in an alternate universe.

          1. how do you get “awesome homegrown innovation” from “*maybe* Samsung can go it alone”, “The task seems momentous though, with a lot of learning along the way”, “occasional flashes of strategic and/or execution brilliance lost in a sea of misdirected or bad software efforts” ?

            More than words in my mouth, you’re putting thoughts in my head to… sustain your adversarial delusion ? Have I offended you by not worshiping at the altar of Apple ?

            As for Apple software problems, don’t take my word for it:*

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