Just look at the new Galaxy S IV, unveiled yesterday.
It has AirView to control your phone as if it was an Xbox and the camera was Kinect; facial recognition technology to pause video when you glance away or scroll a document based on your gaze; S Translator to translate text, as if there was no Google Translate; Galaxy S Voice Drive, which emulates Apple’s Siri; and if you want to get apps on your Samsung Android phone, Samsung’s pushing its own Hub app store, with nary a mention of Google Play.
The reality is that Samsung’s position as the premier Android device developer in the world gives it a ton of clout. And it seems to be using that power to ween users from Google.
We have seen this movie before.
Amazon almost certainly owns the Android tablet market, except its tablet doesn’t really run Android. Or, at least not the version of Android that Google produces. And, instead of connecting to Google services and the Google app store, Amazon’s Android products link into Amazon’s media ecosystem and Amazon’s private app store. Which is a brilliant if somewhat parasitic business model.
Samsung may very well be moving down this road.
The Korean company has made at least two attempts to create its own smartphone operating system: the now-abandoned Bada mobile OS, and Tizen, an effort with Intel to create a Linux-based OS for smartphones that is ongoing. But a simpler and cheaper solution might be the Amazon model: Accept the Android OS from Google with a smile and a nod, strip out as much Google as you can, load up as much proprietary software as you can, and ship, ship, ship.
Wham, bam, thank you ma’am!
“All signs are pointing to Samsung trying to pull off a Great OS Escape within the next year or two,” analyst Aapo Markkanen wrote this morning. “Doing it with an Android fork would be far too risky … so the hero’s role is now reserved for Tizen.”
That’s one reason, according to Google’s just-former Android head Andy Rubin, Google acquired Motorola: a hedge against any one Android partner getting too big, too powerful.
The big question now as we come off a year in which Samsung sold 400 million phones globally is this: Is that hedge big enough?
You can bet Google execs are asking that question. And you have have to start wondering when investors will start to factor that risk into Google stock, which is currently near a five-year high.