Microsoft and Samsung step up partnership ahead of August 7 Unpacked event

Expect Microsoft to be on stage at the Samsung Unpacked event on August 7, demonstrating Office apps, Your Phone and more.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

After a rocky beginning, Samsung and Microsoft have been engaged in a cautious relationship dance for the past several years. I'm hearing the pair recently updated their partnership agreement, which ultimately could result in Samsung selling some of its phones pre-installed with Microsoft Android apps, including Your Phone for connecting phones to Windows 10 PCs. 

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This week at the Samsung Unpacked event in Brooklyn, where Samsung is expected to unveil the Galaxy Note 10, Microsoft will be on stage, I'm hearing from my sources. Microsoft will be demonstrating how its various Office apps and its Your Phone companion app will work on the coming wave of Samsung phones, sources say. (Will we see a Galaxy Fold demo from Microsoft, too, ahead of the Fold's September launch? I don't know, but that would be interesting.)

I've asked Microsoft and Samsung for comment. No word back so far.  Update: A Microsoft spokesperson said the company had nothing to share.

Microsoft's interest here is fairly straightforward. Since the company no longer offers a phone of its own, it has focused its efforts on making versions of its apps and services that work on Android phones (and iPhones) as a way to keep its hand in the mobile market. Via the Microsoft Your Phone app, Microsoft has enabled Windows 10 users to interact with their photos, messages and notifications on their Android (and to a far lesser extent, iPhone) devices directly from their PC screens. 

Additionally, because Microsoft is intent on getting more users to use pens/inking, Galaxy Note devices are a great demo platform for Microsoft. And with its Dex functionality, Samsung has delivered what Microsoft promised with its Continuum technology: The ability to turn a phone or tablet into a full-blown PC by connecting it to a larger display. Microsoft's core Office productivity apps already work with Dex.

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Just a reminder: Microsoft has more than 150 apps published by different Microsoft teams in the Google Play Store, with a handful of them having more than 500 million downloads.

All these synergies aside, it's important to note that Microsoft and Samsung haven't been the best of chums.

In 2011, Samsung and Microsoft settled their patent-licensing dispute, with Samsung agreeing to pay Microsoft for licensing patents upon which Android allegedly infringed. At that time, the agreement was structured as a cross-licensing and business-collaboration deal. Back in 2013, Samsung was paying Microsoft $1 billion per year in patent-licensing royalties. (Hmm. Microsoft cited a decline in licensing royalties as having a negative effect last quarter. Just spitballing here, but I can't help but wonder if the kinder, gentler Microsoft is trading patent-licensing contracts for bundling arrangements.)

In 2015, Microsoft and Samsung "expanded their partnership" with Samsung agreeing to pre-install certain Microsoft services and apps on its Android devices. Samsung officials said they would preinstall OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. And Samsung also agreed to pre-install Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype on select Samsung Android tablets.

In 2018, things got weird. Microsoft was selling the Samsung Galaxy S9 in its Microsoft Online and brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. Microsoft store employees were available to customize the phones with Microsoft apps if customers so desired, leading to at least one Microsoft employee saying there was a "Microsoft Edition" of the Galaxy S9. Months later, Samsung officials said the company had never agreed to a "Microsoft Edition" Galaxy phone.

As my Windows Weekly cohost Paul Thurrott and I have noted on our podcast, some so-far thinly-sourced rumors are claiming that some factions inside Microsoft are vying for the company to make a Microsoft-branded Android phone. Such a device would not be completely Google-free, to be clear. Microsoft still would have to include the Google Play Store on its device to offer customers all the Android apps they expect.

But if Samsung is willing to pre-load Microsoft apps and services on some of its Android phones, does Microsoft need to offer its own? Would customers leery of Microsoft's mobile intentions after what happened with Nokia be willing to take another chance on another Microsoft mobile phone?

As a former Windows Phone user who currently has a Google Pixel 3XL, I have to say I'd be more interested in a Samsung phone than a Microsoft-branded Android device. I want my phone maker to have substantial experience in making and supporting phones.

What about you, readers? 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10: in pictures

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