Samsung embraced the Android platform early on as it needed a decent OS to drive its mobile hardware. Android had everything it needed: a rapid development effort by Google; open source; growing ecosystem; free to modify by OEMs.
While OEMs jumped on the Android bandwagon with Samsung, they were all looking over their shoulder at the fruity phone from Cupertino. Meanwhile Samsung had all of those OEMs firmly in its own sights.
It seems apparent that as Samsung's market share grew the company formed a game plan to take it to the next level. The company realized that as long as so many companies were producing Android phones, it couldn't stand out from the crowd. It needed its own brand to rise to the top, so that's what it set out to do.
The customizations that Samsung put on its Android phones were only slightly different from the rest in the beginning. Android enthusiasts blasted Samsung for its simple TouchWiz interface, as it was considered ugly bloatware that interfered with the pure Android experience.
The launch: | | | On CNET: Full coverage of Samsung Galaxy S4 launch
Even marketing aimed at Apple was a shotgun blast at all the other Android phone makers.
That was OK with Samsung as it realized it had to be different to create its own branding in the Android world. Its developers continued plugging away to make its Android offering unique, and it did so by adding good functionality to its phones.
The rest of the Android OEMs continued to try and compete with the iPhone with no success. They produced as many phones as they could, the equivalent of throwing them up against the wall to see which one would "stick." Through it all, they listened to the tech pundits and the core Android enthusiasts exhorting them to keep the UX close to the "real" Android experience.
While this manic activity was going on, Samsung just kept adapting the Android distributions to be totally different from that core Android model. It added one feature after another and showed them to the buying public with smart marketing. That marketing sealed the fate of the other Android OEMs as Samsung successfully buried Android under its own skin. Even marketing aimed at Apple was a shotgun blast at all the other Android phone makers.
This worked, probably better than even Samsung thought it might. Samsung is probably selling more "Android" phones than all the other OEMs combined. Not only is the Samsung flavor of the UX gaining favor with the mainstream market, it's pushing Android further out of consumers' eyes. That is crystal clear if you look at the press coverage of the Galaxy S4 launch. Only Apple generates this much buzz with a single product.
It's no accident that Android wasn't mentioned at the cheesy Galaxy S4 launch event recently held in NYC. The message was clear that it is Samsung's phone through and through. Sure, Android is at the kernel of it all, but that doesn't matter. It's all Samsung now.
Samsung's dominance of the entire Android ecosystem is almost to the point where it can control its own destiny. Google cannot afford for Samsung to go away — the entire Android system would implode.
This powerful position will keep getting stronger once the S4 hits the market. Samsung will be in a position to officially proclaim its own fork of Android as a real thing. Samsung Phone will be born.
This new platform will still be based on Android but it won't be acknowledged by the company. It will be marketed as its own OS, which, technically, it will be. "It's a Samsung phone" will have significant new meaning as the company touts its own creation.
Samsung will heavily promote its ecosystem, or hubs. This will become the backbone of the Samsung Phone platform. Google Play will still be buried on the Samsung phones, but not promoted.
The key to make this work is that Samsung, like only Apple, controls its own supply chain. It makes its own components and thus controls everything from start to finish.
What about Tizen, the OS that Samsung and others are looking at to potentially replace Android? I believe there are two reasons Samsung is looking at Tizen. First and foremost, Samsung is using Tizen as a misdirection to keep Google and Android OEMs from seeing exactly where Samsung is headed with Samsung Phone.
Secondly, playing with Tizen, and Samsung says a phone will be released this year running it, is a trial run for the company to have its own platform. It is getting the infrastructure in place to "launch" the Samsung Phone platform.
Having a forked version of Android will not appeal to Android enthusiasts and tech pundits in general. Expect a lot of gnashing of teeth and pounding of keyboards to proclaim how big a mistake Samsung is making. Some, like my, won't like the new Samsung Phone.
That's OK with Samsung. The company has learned the most important lesson from Apple: It doesn't matter what these small fringe groups think or say. It only matters what the hundreds of millions of mainstream consumers say. And it believes they will be saying "I have a Samsung Phone."
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