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10/22/2013
12:33 PM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
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Should Samsung Ditch Android?

Mobile analysts debate whether Samsung should free itself from Android and use its homemade OS, Tizen.

Mobile hardware powerhouse Samsung is simply the best at running Google's Android OS on its devices. It is the No. 1 vendor of the No. 1 mobile OS, which has left Apple in the dust in terms of smartphone market share.

Samsung did this by cultivating a user-friendly and (allegedly) more secure version of Android and building great hardware. Users responded in kind. In our debate below, the keep-Android side of the fence argues that Samsung doesn't have the software chops to go it alone and that, if it did use its own OS, it would lose access to hundreds of thousands of quality Android apps. And it's all about the apps.

But despite Samsung's success, is it really wise to keep using the same OS your competitors -- like Motorola and HTC -- are using? And what if Google decides to develop an advanced version of Android that runs only on handsets made by Motorola (which Google owns)? The key to dominance in mobile is creating an ecosystem, and according to the drop-Android side of the fence, Samsung has the resources to take its homemade OS, called Tizen, and create its own ecosystem ... and destiny.

In our debate, veteran mobile industry analysts Michael Finneran, president of dBrn Associates, and Craig Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, square off on this timely subject. What do you think? Please share your opinion in the discussions at the bottom of the page.

For The Motion

Craig Mathias
Craig Mathias

Samsung Should Dump Android

Will Samsung move to a new OS? Yes, sort of -- maybe not a new kernel, not with Linux being free and all. But new APIs free from the control of a competitor? Absolutely. And essential. Maybe even priceless.

Today, after all, it's really all about the ecosystem -- the combination of technologies, components, manufacturing, finished goods, apps/applications, media, distribution, service and support that attracts and keeps buyers. Apple is the unquestioned master here; Google and Amazon clearly get it. Even Microsoft is now well down the ecosystem path. Owning an ecosystem establishes differentiation and control of one's own destiny.

Consider where Samsung is today. Sure, it's the number-one vendor of Android-based devices, and Android is the leading mobile OS by far. An OS plays the role of glue in an ecosystem, providing commonality across product lines, and, again, differentiation. Unfortunately for Samsung, though, that differentiation accrues large to Google, which uses Android to leverage its own ecosystem. Importantly, Google also owns Motorola, which directly competes with Samsung. So, then, this situation isn't good -- in fact, it's very, very bad. Apart from the lack of differentiation, suppose Google decided to build a version of Android that ran only on Motorola handsets -- a two-tier OS strategy, keeping the good stuff for itself? This would be like Samsung being unable to supply Apple with displays for the iPad -- minor revenue hiccup to Samsung, but a flat-out disaster for Apple.

Samsung is known to be spending big bucks on Tizen, an HTML 5-centric project with the street cred and independence of the Linux Foundation, as well as its own trade association, that includes an SDK built on top of a Linux-based OS that can trace its roots to MeeGo and a number of other mobile OS efforts, like LiMo and Bada.

Samsung recently completed a $2.2 million Port-a-Thon contest to attract developers, and established a Tizen App Challenge with $4 million in prizes. Does this sound like Tizen is a fun side project for a company firmly committed to Android? I think not. Tizen instead looks like an easy way for Samsung to further establish and differentiate its ecosystem and free itself from dependence upon a competitor -- again, two essential goals.

The downside? New operating environments are no guarantee of success. BlackBerry 10 is an unqualified failure, and Windows Phone isn't exactly setting the world on fire. But regardless, being in control of all of the pieces one needs to build an ecosystem is essential for leadership, and a game that only very large companies can play. Samsung is just such, and it has the marketing muscle to pull this off. A little more differentiation, a lot less dependence on competitors, plus building on its overwhelmingly positive image of quality and leadership. Sounds like a plan.

So where will this effort go? Samsung sells a very popular Chromebook -- so why not a Tizenbook? Great idea! Phones and tablets? Duh. A TizenTV? It's already a leader in televisions. TizenMediaPlayers? TizenCameras? TizenInCars? TizenAppliances? TizenGadgets? EmbeddedTizen? You get the point. Imagine a Tizen ecosystem, open but dominated by Samsung. Is there a better strategy today? Not likely.

And, yes, Samsung could continue to sell Android, or products based on any other operating system, or provide Android compatibility mode on Tizen to pick up a ton of current apps. But there's nothing better than having control over one's destiny, and Samsung is one of the few companies on this planet large and powerful enough to make this happen. I'm convinced it must, and it will.

Rebuttal

Michael Finneran makes some good arguments in his column. Android is indeed the dominant mobile OS today, owing in large part to Linux being free, Apple's fundamentally closed mentality, and Google's great vision and marketing -- it's kind of like Windows vs. Mac all over again. It's also true that Samsung has prospered under this reality, differentiating where it can. But the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" does not apply anymore. Now it's "fix it before it breaks -- because it will break." That's why Tizen is essential to Samsung's future success.

Even Michael acknowledges that Google could resort to heavy-handed tactics in the pursuit of profits. And he also points out the possibility of a shift to the cloud with respect to apps, which I also see as both fundamental and inevitable for reasons of cost and the logistics of mobile operations. And I've acknowledged that the large installed base of Android apps could be supported on -- or, more properly, next to -- Tizen while enabling Samsung to have the control over its destiny that it so fundamentally needs.

Sorry, Michael, but you have not persuaded me here. Samsung is about to shift directions big time. The risks are minimal, and the potential rewards, again, are priceless.

Against The Motion

Michael Finneran
Michael Finneran

Samsung Can't Dump Android

Samsung needs to hold onto Android as its main mobile operating system. My opinion is based on the fact that Samsung has taken a strong strategic position with Android, recognized its challenges, and set about to address them in a way that will be beneficial to both enterprise users and consumers.

Samsung is far and away the biggest seller of Android-compatible smartphones. According to IDC, the company sells 39.1% of the world's Android smartphones; LG is second with 6.5%. Rather than backing away from Android, Samsung is doubling down on its bet and using Android as the foundation for its own Apple-like franchise.

To be sure, the Android ecosystem is a mess. But it's a successful mess. Android now dominates Apple iOS in worldwide shipments, according to IDC, with a market share of 79.3% compared to iOS's 13.2% for Q2 2013. Unlike Apple's command-and-control mentality, the open nature of the Android platform and the number of manufacturers building it into their devices has led to a maddening variety of user interfaces as each manufacturer looks to make its own mark on the OS.

Samsung is working hard to develop the "best and brightest" version of Android with a user experience akin to what Apple users get on their iPhones and iPads. Unlike Apple's one-size-fits-all philosophy (well, "two" if we're talking about the iPad), Samsung is cranking out more sizes and configurations than we can keep track of. However, with a common software configuration, users will be able to move comfortably from whatever size or type of device (smartphone, tablet or phablet) to any other.

Beyond that, it's about the apps, which will be key to smartphone acceptance for the foreseeable future. Were Samsung to walk away from Android, it would be walking away from the extensive library of Android apps. According to Android community AppBrain, as of October 2013, there were slightly more than 650,000 good quality apps in the Android catalogue. If Samsung were to go off with its own OS, that number would drop to zero.

Beyond the unwelcome variety of user interfaces, Android has been the poster child for mobile malware, and according to McAfee, now accounts for more than 90% of the mobile malware it's uncovered. Samsung Apps, the company's app store, appears to be taking steps to address that. According to Samsung's website, "Samsung Apps collaborates closely with sellers to secure compatibility and suitability of applications with Samsung smart products." I'm not quite sure what that means, but it appears Samsung is at least taking some steps to vet applications before they go up on the site.

Probably the biggest area where we've seen Samsung differentiating its version of Android is in enterprise security. In a bid to offer enterprise customers an alternative to BlackBerry-grade security, the company introduced its Samsung for Enterprise (SAFE) program that now includes Knox, its secure container.

I can see only two scenarios where Samsung would part company with Android. The first would be if Google altered the playing field for Android in such a way as to make the platform less attractive to third parties. That would probably entail giving its Motorola Mobility subsidiary the inside track on Android and becoming a competitor to Samsung, LG, Lenovo and the other Android hardware manufacturers -- a move not unlike what Microsoft did in bringing out its own line of Surface tablets.

The other would be if the mobile device market shifted from an app-based model to a cloud-based model, and Samsung's Linux-based Tizen OS with its HTML 5 capabilities altered the market's priorities. Longer term, that may well be how the mobility market develops, and it would certainly change the dynamics. But for now, I'm betting on Samsung sticking with Android.

Rebuttal

Samsung might try to create its own ecosystem, but it doesn't have the chops to pull it off. The picture Craig Mathias paints in his column is compelling, but to convince me you'd have to change the names. First off, Google is showing no interest in breathing new life into Motorola Mobility, whose market share is now buried in the "Other" category. Working with "frienemies" is the new normal. I take Google at its word that it's not going for a Microsoft style "compete with our partners" strategy.

The bigger reason is that I don't think Samsung is that good on the software side. Big, gaudy screens it's good at. A compelling and engaging user experience? Not so much. A port-a-thon is a great idea for building your applications library, but you still need the vision and finesse to craft it into something that engages the user. With Samsung doing this, we'll be looking at the next BlackBerry, not the next Apple.

If hardware were the key differentiator, Samsung would have a shot. But this is a software game and Google has it all over Samsung on that front. Samsung can't go it alone.

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anon6454756288
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anon6454756288,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2013 | 1:53:27 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
Samsung doesn't control the Android ecosystem. Google does. Samsung is just a hardware vendor. Every single Samsung device is being used by an individual whose primary mail is probably gmail, is used to google maps, has possibly purchased google play apps, watches youtube videos, backups photos automatically to google+ and uploads data and config to google drive. Knowingly or not.

If Samsung stabs google and create its own operating system, google would "kindlefireize" them. How many of the customers described above would switch from android, from their paid apps, from google maps, youtube and gmail to another ecosystem with an order of magnitude worse maturity and content? My guess is not so many.

Android is here to stay. As both of you say, it's all about the ecosystem.
anon7385571217
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anon7385571217,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2013 | 2:27:31 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
Samsung trying to change its "destiny" by moving away from being dependent to Android is like dreaming of winning the lottery. I believe Android didnt grew by itself but because it was supported by a lot of hardware manufacturers.

I agree that this could change if Google will start changing the game and starts competing with its partners through Motorola ala Microsoft but I dont see if it will make sense that they do considering that my impression is that part of Android's strength is the support of several hardware manufacturers and the openness of Android allowed these manufacturers to customize the OS to differentiate itself and it came to a point that consumers move from one manufacturer to another but not Android. It has become a battle of who customizes Android best, hardware aside. Manufacturers are competing with each other to get market share with Android. Why would Google want to be a target if it can just sit and watch, throw a bone or two in the form of updates just to keep things going?

MS' case is different in my opinion because Windows is Windows, its only a battle of who makes the best hardware for the OS, nobody customizes the way it looks like Android and it came to a point that PCs are declining because people are going for a more inexpensive alternatives to do basic computing like Apple or Android tablets. PCs is starting to become something for serious work and this is not something we do 24/7. So to my impression, MS had to step up and set a new trend on the hardware side to sway the users back and I believe it is working with Surface, manufacturers started stepping up in the design of their devices for Windows and with Intel working on better low voltage chips, produced promising devices.

I believe Google understands the importance of its partners and I do not believe they will do anything to hurt its relationship with them. They need Android to dominate the mobile OS market and I doubt Motorola can do it alone just the same as manufacturers need people to buy their devices and no other OS can do that.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/23/2013 | 4:32:56 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
I think the primacy of apps will eventually end as HTML5 improves in its ability to use device niceties like cameras and gains dev mindshare. Apps are space hogs and let's face it - most people use only a small fraction. Why not wipe the slate clean and go browser-centric?
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
10/23/2013 | 4:35:15 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
That makes sense now, but what if Google starts to need to boost revenue? It's smart to walk before someone makes you run.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2013 | 4:49:39 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
I enjoyed this article, very cool format, especially having the rebuttals. Both authors made convincing arguments as well. Would love to see more articles in this format, its a winner.
As for Samsung, I own a TV, phone, and get this, a refrigerator made by them. The idea of them maybe speaking all the same language is very nerdly compelling. But that language would not have to be Tizen.
"provide a compatibility mode for Android apps" could be a massive undertaking, with an end product that never quite works right, especially given the Wild West landscape of Android.
I can't see it making sense for Samsung to leave Android.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2013 | 5:00:22 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
We've been hearing that for years. I agree with the premise and strongly desire it to come true but why hasn't it happened? What makes HTML5 different from other attempts? Java tried and it was a miserable failure. Connections were too slow and even with Microsoft's DLL-hell in full bloom, Sun exhibited a stunning competency to recreate it. (A Java upgrade often broke applets that worked with the prior version.) I'd argue the closest we came is Flash. Unfortunately Apple refused to allow it on iOS and single-handedly killed it.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
10/23/2013 | 5:11:18 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
If Samsung has the expertise, they should try rolling their own. However, I don't recommend they stray from remaining compatible with Android apps. Otherwise it's DBA (not database admin, dead BEFORE arrival). As Microsoft can attest, no apps, no demand, no sales, no developers (rinse and repeat). In fact, I'm surprised Microsoft hasn't tried building something that performs a similar function to WINE on Unix by allowing Android apps to run on WP. They could call it ANDE, make it open source and watch the community port it to iOS for the jail-break crowd. I read the latest Lumia premium phablet has 2GB of RAM. That ought to be enough to allow for some overhead -- especially if it's loaded once and shared by multiple apps.
Researcher32
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Researcher32,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/23/2013 | 5:59:59 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
Google bought Motorola to be able to tightly control hardware, OS and software -- the Apple model if you will. Samsung knows this and will move away from Android...though it won't be easy.
Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
10/23/2013 | 6:25:38 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
IMHO, Craig's line about fixing it before it's broken actually stops a bit short of today's reality. The slogan is "break it, then fix it." That said, I don't think Samsung would be dumb enough to shift to Tizen unless it has to, and I don't think Google is dumb enough to force the move. Afterall, Google built Droid as much as a hedge against Microsoft's foray into hardware and a threat to Apple more than as a means of generating cash for itself -- and that strategy has worked briliantly on both fronts.
Yes, Google bought Motorola, perhaps as a fallback plan as Microsoft grows cozier with Nokia or to build customized Droid phones for the police/military market. But it's hard to imagine Google betting its entire Droid franchise on launching a new consumer phone into an already jam-packed marketplace where margins are shrinking and the future is, at best, even more competitive. Instead, it should be delighted that so many manufacturers are tripping over each other to take on that risk, propelling Droid to its industry-leading position.
I can't think of anything that Samsung could do to shoot itself in the foot than to abandon the 650,000 Droid apps out there and try to convince consumers that they should take a chance on an OS with almost no apps. (That doesn't seem to be going well for Microsoft so far.) When consumers show up in retail stores, the first question is: "Droid, iOS, or, perhaps, Windows?" Not "Samsung, Apple, or Nokia."
Would Samsung want to risk its current success on adding Tizen as a distant fourth horse in the OS race when it's already running out front in hardware?
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
10/23/2013 | 7:03:17 PM
re: Should Samsung Ditch Android?
Look at the reaction now by Samsung Galaxy users to the Samsung "bloatware" that's included on their phones now. Check out the sarcastic review comments on Samsung Push Service, for example.
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