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Whatever happens to Samsung, Android is safe

Chris Nerney | Aug. 21, 2014
Whether Samsung sticks with Android or veers away to push Tizen, Google and its open source mobile OS should continue to flourish.

samsung droid
Credit: Buggy Droid via Flickr

Ever since Samsung emerged first as the dominant global seller of Android phones in 2010, and then as the world's largest seller of smartphones (in 2012, the South Korean electronics giant has been seen as a threat to Google, which licenses its open source mobile OS to Samsung and several other manufacturers.

There are three basic "Samsung threat" scenarios:

  • Samsung becomes so dominant in the Android world that it eventually hijacks Android from Google.
  • Samsung will abandon Android in favor of its own mobile OS, Tizen, which it developed with Intel.
  • Samsung is already on the decline and will take Android down with it.

Let's take a look at these scenarios one by one and assess how realistic each might be:

Samsung hijacks Android from Google
Samsung ships about two-thirds of all Android devices sold around the world. With that kind of leverage, the thinking goes, Samsung could demand better Android licensing terms from Google, which benefits hugely from the ads, services and products delivered to millions of Samsung smartphone owners. Failing that, Samsung could simply fork Android, as Amazon did with its Fire OS that runs its Fire Phone and Kindle Fire line of tablets.

But Samsung has dominated the Android market for more than two years and has neither strong-armed Google for a better deal nor developed its own version of Android. And at this point it's not going to because it appears Samsung's overall market share is now receding.

While still the global leader in smartphone shipments, Samsung's share of the market fell to 25.2% in the second quarter from 32.3% in the year-ago quarter, according to IDC.

Further, Samsung in July reported a decline in revenue and earnings, the result of intense competition and much lower margins in the low end of the smartphone market and Apple's continued strength in the high end, where the iPhone 5S has been outselling the much newer Galaxy S5. Samsung's dominance of the Android market may have peaked in 2013 with the Galaxy S4, so its window of opportunity for leveraging its power may have passed.

Sure, Samsung can still fork Android, but it won't because it's committing to its own mobile OS.

Samsung's Tizen will compete with Android
Under this scenario, Samsung rolls out the Tizen mobile OS and uses its brand strength, manufacturing capacity and marketing to carve out a respectable market share at the expense of Android (and iOS).

Which already has happened. Samsung released a Tizen-powered wearable -- the Gear 2 smartwatch -- in April, followed by the announcement of the Samsung Z, a Tizen-based smartphone slated to be sold initially in Russia this fall.


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