The Great Android Dilemma: Is Galaxy Bigger Than Android?

Posted Wednesday May 8, 2013 at 8:30:12 am in Technology

Google is in a precarious situation here. On the one hand, they have turned into the Windows of the smartphone world. That is, the sheer number of devices running Android is much akin to the sheer number of devices running Windows. That is a great problem to have. A not so great problem to have is when one particular company dominates that market.

And that company is Samsung. In particular their Galaxy line of devices. In a sense, Android is taking a backseat to a bigger name: Galaxy. And Google is worried.

And they should be. This is very much like what happens with Linux distributions. Arguably the most popular Linux distribution is Ubuntu when it comes to consumers. There's Ubuntu, and then there's everything else.

Think of what Amazon is doing with their Kindle Fire line. As of now there are 4 versions:

  • Fire - $159
  • Fire HD - $199
  • Fire HD 8.9" - $269
  • Fire HD 8.9" 4G LTE - $399

To the layperson, they'd have no idea what the underlying operating system is on the Fire line. This is because Amazon has done a fantastic job of not only using Android as the underlying operating system, but they built a GUI that hides that fact. Oh, and Amazon has their own App Store on Android.

Want an exercise to prove that Amazon is doing everything in their power to push the Kindle GUI as the main driver behind the device and not Android?

Well, pull up the Kindle Fire product page on Amazon:

Then do a page find on the word Android. Guess what? The word Android is only mentioned once. And it's used like this:

At Amazon, we make it easy for you to access your content on other devices. The books, videos, apps, audiobooks, games, and music that you buy for your Kindle Fire can also be enjoyed on Amazon apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, game consoles, TVs and more.

That's right. It's essentially saying that Amazon's collection of media (books, videos, apps, audiobooks, games, music) can also be enjoyed on Android. Kind of funny, huh? Especially considering the Kindle Fire is running Android.

For developers, Amazon wants to provide Kindle Fire Developer Resources to you. That's right, they want you to get apps and games on Kindle Fire tablets...not necessarily Android:

Are you a developer? Kindle Fire Developer Resources can help you get your apps and games on Kindle Fire tablets. Learn more

Don't be surprised if you see a Kindle Fire phone come out soon.

Now back to the original point of Android and Google being in a predicament. Remember when Android devices were pretty much evenly loved across the board? When HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, etc. all were sharing some form of limelight?

Flash forward to today and it's arguable that the most popular company running Android as their phone OS is that of Samsung. And more importantly their Galaxy line.

Google is now in a situation where they are seeing Samsung completely and utterly dominate the Android smartphone market. There are countless charts out there showing the most popular Android phones out there. And what do they say?

That the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 are the most popular Android devices on the market. And the Galaxy line is the most popular Android series of devices out there.

At this point, it's arguable that the Galaxy name is bigger than Android. And I'm starting to wonder if Samsung is trying to go the direction of Amazon and their Kindle Fire devices.

Think about it for a second.

This is a world where ecosystems make the most sense. Amazon has one. Microsoft has one. Google has one. Apple has one.

Does Samsung?

Does Sony?

In a word: no. It puts Sony in a precarious spot going forward with their entertainment devices, in particular the PlayStation 4 and beyond. It is essentially forcing Nintendo into (most likely) becoming a software development company.

And I think it's going to push Samsung into the direction Amazon went with the Kindle Fire. Immediately? No. But that's the direction Samsung is going in. Up until February 25, 2013 Samsung was actively developing Bada, which is an operating system for smartphones and tablets. The interesting thing about Bada is that its interface used the TouchWiz GUI. Yes, this is the same GUI that is found in their Galaxy Android devices.

But follow me here for a second. On February 25, 2013 Samsung announced the following:

On 25 February 2013, Samsung announced that it will stop developing Bada, moving development to Tizen instead.

Source: Fierce Mobile Content

It's a mighty curious development that Samsung is moving development to Tizen whilst still pushing Android hard on their Galaxy line. It's just a hunch, but it feels like Samsung is doing everything possible to get the mindshare of users with the Galaxy line....and then move away from Google and/or Android completely.

It certainly feels that the work Samsung has put into Android isn't just to push out hardware. No, it seems like something more grandiose. After all, they're at the mercy of Google when it really comes down to it. And I don't think they want that to continue.

In February 2013, multiple articles surfaced about Google's worry about Samsung's dominance. One in particular from The Verge (citing the Wall Street Journal) stated that Samsung currently accounts for 40% of Android devices sold.

Google is growing increasingly worried about Samsung's position atop the Android smartphone market, according to the Wall Street Journal. During a meeting last year, Android head Andy Rubin reportedly hailed the manufacturer's spectacular success, though also warned that Google could fall into a precarious position should Samsung pull too far ahead of competitors.

Source: The Verge

I've long contended that Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility wasn't just to have a harmony of hardware and software that both Apple and Microsoft enjoy with their iPhone and Windows Phone devices, respectively. The problem that Google had with Motorola was its product roadmap. They didn't want to kill production of devices, but they actively knew that the roadmap included devices that weren't pushing the stock image of Android that Google wanted.

So Google has been working with Motorola closely. And device after device from Motorola has continued to look more and more like stock Android. And it eventually will...according to Google.

Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility was one part patent portfolio, but larger part having a ready to go hardware unit that could go toe to toe with Samsung. Google aren't idiots. They know how dominant Samsung is. They need a way to battle Samsung head on should Samsung try to strong arm them. In particular, the Wall Street Journal reported the following:

Several people familiar with the relationship between the companies said Google fears that Samsung will demand a greater share of the online-advertising revenue that Google generates from its Web-search engine," the Journal reports. "Samsung in the past has received more than 10% of such revenue, one of the people said. Samsung has signaled to Google that it might want more. this isn't just an issue of Samsung strong arming in regards to advertising revenue. No, I think this is Google worrying about Samsung's future with Android and gaining too much mindshare.

Whether this mindshare would be used to push something like the Kindle Fire kind of approach (its own application store, GUI, etc.) or something more (moving towards Tizen for it smartphone, tablet, and TV based applications) remains to be seen.

But it's quickly becoming reality that in the eyes of consumers, the Galaxy line is more popular than Android's name when it comes to smartphones. And it certainly seems that the Kindle Fire is known more as an Amazon product than an Android tablet.

This should worry Google. Two of the most popular product lines, the Galaxy line for phones and the Kindle Fire line for tablets, are dominant players.

Expect Google's Motorola Mobility unit to not only push out stock Android smartphones but also tablets. But don't think that they're doing this just to push Android. It's a defensive move, but a necessary one. 

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view