Samsung did something fairly surprising given that it included the most recent version of Android, 4.2.2, on its brand new Galaxy S 4 smartphone: it didn’t talk about that much at all last night at the special launch event. Maybe the company was too busy trying to cram as many song and dance numbers into the show as possible, but maybe that’s because Samsung will soon take what it needs from Android and go its own way.
Which isn’t to say it would get rid of Android altogether – just that it might choose to follow Amazon’s example and build a version of Android that’s virtually unrecognizable on the surface from the Google mobile OS that will be running on the vast majority of other OEM handsets. The more control Samsung has over the OS running on its devices, the greater its take of revenue resulting from software and media use, and the better it can solidify its position at the top of the global smartphone market.
More than any other Android device manufacturer, Samsung made a point with its latest generation of flagship device to outline software features that help it stand apart: Dual-Shot, Sound Shot, Drama Shot, Air Gesture, Air View, S-Travel, S-Health, S-Voice, S-Translator, S-Voice Drive Knox, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Group Play, etc. The list of features that were Samsung-specific was long, and many of those actually included services that can be considered alternatives to Google’s own offerings: S-Voice and S-Translator can do a lot of what Google’s own software offerings can provide, for example, and use Nuance tech, not Google’s, to get it done.
Even leaving the major software service announcements aside, small things like the new Bluetooth controller and ability for S-Health to plug into third-party devices signal a desire to start attracting more content to Samsung’s own OEM-specific ecosystem.
Samsung also offers its own Samsung Apps for delivering software specific to its devices, and has signed on Swiftkey to provide its software keyboard, another way to differentiate itself from those using stock or skinned Android input mechanisms. Samsung Apps itself isn’t new, but a key effort from the Korean company to attract more developers to that platform is aiming to make it more of a destination for developers and consumers. Samsung announced a campaign in February to sign on indie developers to Samsung Apps, offering 100 percent of all revenue from software sold there to developers.
That’s a big incentive over the standard revenue split of 70/30 in the Google Play marketplace, and one made even more attractive by the fact that even if developers target only Samsung devices, at this point they’re still reaching the vast majority of Android smartphone users worldwide. Likewise, Samsung should be able to use its market advantage to add even more content to its own dedicated media marketplaces (including the music store powered by 7digital), which could get a boost in terms of consumer interest from the new Group Play collaborative media sharing feature introduced for the Galaxy S 4.
Amazon had it backwards: it started off trying to stake out its own territory apart from Google’s own Android encampment. Samsung instead is taking what it needs from Android and slowly building up reserves to strike out on its own. It still has a ways to go before it gets there (Play is still just a far better ecosystem than Samsung’s own media and software stores), but eventually the chance to strike off on its own and own a more direct relationship with customers by forking Android development could be just too tempting the next time a new flagship update rolls around.