Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 lovefest with Microsoft: It's complicated

With apologies to the Carpenters​, Samsung executive Federico Casalegno was practically singing, "Why do birds suddenly appear, ev'ry time Microsoft is near."
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Listening to Samsung executives launch the Galaxy Note 20, Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Tab 7 you could hear the love for Microsoft in the air.

With apologies to the Carpenters, Samsung executive Federico Casalegno was practically singing, "Why do birds suddenly appear, ev'ry time Microsoft is near."

Samsung's Unpacked presentations mentioned Android a few times and Microsoft a lot more. The Samsung Note app is integrated with Outlook and OneDrive. Integrations between Microsoft productivity apps and Samsung devices are everywhere. Samsung showed off how the Note 20 Ultra is a fine device to work with Xbox's cloud gaming service.

There were so many integration points between Microsoft and Samsung's flagship devices that I was left wondering why Microsoft was screwing around with devices like the Duo. Why would Microsoft make its own Android device? After all, the Samsung Z Fold 2 was introduced and the sizzle reel naturally had some Microsoft Office touchpoints.

Microsoft's Duo launch may complicate things. It's unclear where the Duo is headed and few have had hands-on time with the software or a fully operating device. 

Nevertheless, I see Samsung's 5G Galaxy Note 20 as a near perfect complement to Microsoft's productivity apps. Sure, there are Samsung integration points with Google too, but you'd never know it given the Microsoft lovefest at Unpacked.

Casalegno said the evolution of the Microsoft partnership with Samsung was "only the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Aww. That's like tech partnership goals.

Taher Behbehani, general manager of Samsung America's mobile B2B unit, made similar comments without the schmaltz.

"The Microsoft integration has been interesting." said Behbehani. "As a business user the Microsoft integration has been essential and a pleasant surprise for their experience because you want the choice to connect to different productivity suites of different providers in a seamless fashion."  

"Why do birds suddenly appear..."

So why would I say these two lovebirds are in a complicated relationship?

Microsoft competes with Samsung on devices. The Galaxy Tab 7 Plus competes with the Surface. Microsoft's Androidenstein device called Duo is a Galaxy Z Fold rival to a degree. Microsoft is an OEM partner and a rival. It's odd. Perhaps it isn't as odd as Google's Pixel being one of the better Microsoft Android phones.

Meanwhile, there's a bit of deja vu with this Microsoft and Samsung romance. Back in the 2000s, Microsoft and Samsung, a then key partner for Windows Mobile devices, were tight. But then Samsung became the premier Android smartphone manufacturer. Microsoft launched a patent suit and Samsung settled with the software giant in 2011.

That settlement included a cross-licensing and business collaboration deal. Samsung was paying Microsoft $1 billion a year patent-licensing royalties in 2013. Samsung was a good soldier and made a few Windows Phone devices.

Also: Here are the real reasons Windows Phone failed, reveals ex-Nokia engineer

Needless to say patents and cross licensing deals don't usually make you all romantic.

Microsoft and Samsung began to turn the relationship around in 2019 at the Galaxy Note 10 launch. Microsoft and Samsung outlined the first phase of a series of integrations. About the time of the Microsoft-Samsung resurgence the software vendor disclosed a decline in patent licensing revenue.

Back then, Mary Jo Foley speculated that Microsoft may have traded patent licensing fees for bundling apps. She put together a brief history of the Microsoft-Samsung partnership before the Galaxy Note 10 launch. 

In any case, we've seen this movie before. In 2015, Samsung and Microsoft were tight, but things were rocky again in 2018 when the two disagreed over a Microsoft Edition Galaxy S9.

With Microsoft wading into the rather crowded Android device pool you have to wonder how long this budding partnership will stay in its current phase. If history is any guide, I'll give this beautiful friendship two years before things hit the skids again. 


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.


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