Thursday, May 3, 2012


The Future Of Samsung Galaxy is not just Android

Samsung Electronics is the world's largest smartphone manufacturer and biggest user of Google's Android operating system.

In the first quarter of 2011 Samsung shipped fewer smartphones than Apple, Nokia or Research in Motion, but is now market leader - has handed it a dilemma. Does Samsung risk becoming a commodity manufacturer of hardware, squeezed like the PC makers of old between narrowing margins and those who control the software that makes their devices run, or does it try to break into other parts of the business - the so-called mobile ecosystem?

Do Samsung really want to be one of the power players or are they happy enabling someone else's ecosystem?

To be sure, Samsung isn't in any kind of trouble, and isn't likely to be so any time soon. Soon this quarter it will launch the Galaxy S3, the latest addition to its flagship range of smartphones. Samsung is to remain the No.1 smartphone manufacturer this quarter as the next iPhone upgrade is expected around the third quarter.

The Future Of Samsung Galaxy

Android has done wonders for them, but still the company has its critics. They worry that Samsung has yet to address the central contradiction of it making devices that use someone else's operating system.

By licensing the free Android OS from Google, Samsung saves itself millions of dollars in software development costs and license fees, but leaves itself dependent on Google.

A similar debate went on at Nokia in the early years of the smartphone. And, Microsoft had shown that whoever owned the operating system could relegate every hardware manufacturer to be a commodity player.

So it's a puzzle to us now, years and years on, to see companies like Samsung continuing to operate within the operating system and ecosystem that other vendors control.

And Samsung, of course, is not alone. Nokia itself has abandoned its own operating system, Symbian, in favour of Microsoft's Windows Phone.

As Google rolls out updates to its operating system, they must first be tested and adapted by manufacturers against their own customizations before being pushed out to the handset. This slows down the update process and means many users are stuck with earlier versions of Android.

Nearly two thirds of Android devices, for example, run Gingerbread, a version of the operating system that was released in late 2010.

This further weakens Samsung's efforts to differentiate its phones beyond merely the look and hardware specifications. Also, smartphones look increasingly similar as they shift from keyboards to touchscreens.

All this creates a conflict of interest between the two players that at some point may burst into the open. While Samsung says it has welcomed Google's purchase of Motorola , a handset maker, because of the U.S. firm's commitment to supporting Android and its partners, it has also taken steps towards some degree of independence.

For example it last year introduced its own Android software store, Samsung Apps, which has about 40,000 apps - a handful compared to Apple's 500,000 for the iPhone and 450,000 for Android. And last month it announced its own mobile advertising service, AdHub Market, apparently competing with Google's own ad distribution network - its main source of revenue.

For bada or worse?

Samsung has an operating system called bada, for example, which was on fewer than 3 percent of the world's smartphones last year, according to Canalys, putting it ahead of Microsoft's Windows Phone. But that's nothing compared to Android.

Samsung plans to introduce more models, but has also said it may roll bada into another operating system called Tizen, and is in any case building an ecosystem that would improve compatibility between the two systems.

However, that while Android was an important part of its strategy, phones running Windows and bada operating systems were equally important.

Samsung is not just a phone maker like HTC so it does have the potential to create platforms which deliver content and web services to TVs, PCs, phones and media players, and connect them.

This is Samsung's competitive advantage, as the world shifts more to web-based technologies like HTML5, which reduce the relevance of individual operating systems and platforms like Apple's iOS and Android. Instead, applications will be more like web pages, which can run on any device.

Samsung has no track record of building a developer ecosystem and even in the web that's going to be a challenge. It may have thought Google would be a solution, but Google is too controlling.

For now, no one denies Samsung's pre-eminence. The zeitgeist right now is definitely towards high-end Android devices of which Samsung is clearly the leader so I don't think there's any instant danger. It's more a case of what Samsung wants to be in five years time and planning towards that.


About bench3 -

Haja Peer Mohamed H, Software Engineer by profession, Author, Founder and CEO of "bench3" you can connect with me on Twitter , Facebook and also onGoogle+

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