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Samsung is hurting Android

Gordon Kelly


Samsung is hurting Android

Last week our HTC One vs Samsung Galaxy S4 head-to-head concluded that Samsung no longer makes the best Android phone. But after developments this week, I wonder whether Google wants Samsung to continue making Android phones at all.

What happened?

In an unprecedented move Samsung announced a deal on Thursday to make an established, high profile Android app incompatible with every Android smartphone except its own. The app in question is ITV Player, the catch up service for ITV - the UK’s largest independent terrestrial broadcaster. ITV player

Needless to say the news wasn’t phrased like that. Samsung celebrated the agreement, noting the rise in people wanting to use their mobile devices for video and an ITV spokesperson blamed the fragmentation of Android as a key motivation in its decision. It wasn’t, it was money.

If ITV wanted to avoid fragmentation it would have chosen to make its app compatible with only pure versions of Android - something available to any rooted Android handset, and which discourages fragmentation. Meanwhile Samsung may recognise the demand for such an app, but it has just removed this option for millions of non-Samsung handset owning ITV app users. ITV said it plans to (re)launch for app for other Android devices “in the future”, but didn’t put a date on it.

Was this a one-off move that Samsung doesn’t intend to repeat elsewhere? Don’t be silly. Will such moves cause even greater fragmentation of Android? Absolutely. Will it damage Android? Absolutely. Not only has the deal put the platform’s fragmentation again in the headlines, but now it is also headline news that its key apps can be bought up to make this even worse. Everyone hurts except for Samsung, and Google hurts most of all.

Yes rivals could start doing the same thing. But Gartner states Samsung sells more Android smartphones than HTC, Sony, ZTE, Huawei, Motorola and LG combined and Samsung could easily outbid the competition for anything it wants. Big app developers can also cash in on this trend with incentives to make sure their apps are made with compatibility for Galaxy ranges first, and what Google has coded second.

But why would Samsung want to hurt the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Weak Android = strong Samsung

Here is a dirty secret: it is in Samsung’s interest to damage Android.

Each successive generation of Samsung’s Android phones has been more laden down with TouchWiz customisations and non-removable Samsung apps than the last. In the Galaxy S4, for example, 7GB of its internal memory is taken up its custom apps and highly tweaked version of Android. This is 1GB more than the Galaxy S3 and more than twice the size of a clean Android install partition. Samsung has been building an operating system on top of an operating system.

It is a classic Trojan Horse tactic. Android had unstoppable momentum, Samsung fought hard to become the chief beneficiary of it and now it wants an Apple-like control of its destiny. When Samsung adds software to its Android phones it believes it improves them, when Google updates Android with similar features it enables the competition to catch up.

Fragment Android and you stop the competition improving and mainstream customers learn only Samsung’s Android phones are worth buying. Only Samsung has the resources to keep improving a stalled OS - though the tactic only works long term if you have an exit strategy.

Samsung wants to be like Apple

The exit strategy is called Tizen. Tizen is a mobile operating system built by the Linux Foundation, but primarily funded by Intel and Samsung. It is open source by nature, but the two primary investors have scared away rivals.

Conveniently Tizen is covered with TouchWiz so to the casual observer it looks identical to Samsung’s Android phones. It can also easily run Android apps with a code tweak and Samsung would also have big-name natively-coded apps if only it could tie up some deals with… oh wait.

So break down Android to hurt rivals, switch to Tizen with all of Android’s app goodness (plus exclusives) and promise customers the unity Android was never able to deliver. Samsung needs to hurt Android now if it is going to create a big enough crack in it to open up room for another operating system in the market.

Samsung has a track record. It failed to do this once with Bada (which is actually merged into Tizen) and will inevitably follow through more strongly this time. A high profile Tizen phone has already been promised by September.

Of course Tizen is just part of the puzzle. Having its own platform is one thing, but Samsung has also learnt from Apple that the ecosystem around it is equally important. As such Samsung’s market leading televisions, monitors and laptops have all been gaining features that make them exclusively work better with Samsung’s phones. There are audio docks specifically for Samsung phones too. The pieces are all in place.

Do no evil

None of which means we should feel sorry for Google. Samsung may be trying to manipulate Android for its own ends, but Google has attempted to do the same with Windows, Mac and iOS for years.

Gmail links

Visit the Google homepage with a browser other than Chrome and you’ll always be nagged to install it. Use Google’s apps on iOS and they form their own Trojan Horse ecosystem. This month Google tightened the knot even more, making Gmail, Google Search, Google Voice Search and Google Maps all default to one another cutting Apple’s core apps out the loop.

Find you’re using all Google’s apps on your iPhone and before long you’ll wonder why you don’t just switch to Android. It isn’t nice having your own tricks turned on you.

Paranoid Android

Then again hypocrisy isn’t the point, Google is reaping what it sowed. Android was created with the key message that it is open source and that partners are encouraged to develop it. As iOS took off, it was this which was critical to establishing Android as the next viable alternative. Control was freely relinquished, but exploitation was not expected.

Furthermore Samsung is only the start. Where it has headed in relatively subtle steps Amazon has charged like a bull in a china shop. If Amazon can follow up its tablets with a compelling phone, the combination of Samsung and Amazon success could see Android ripped to pieces.

On their own these partner woes may not bring Google to a tipping point, but they are not on their own. Google also faces a rapidly spiralling EU antitrust investigation. It is accused of exploiting its monopoly in search and Android has been thrown under the spotlight too because it has crept over the threshold of 70 per cent market share.

Increasingly the solution looks to be control. Insisting partners use stock Android would immediately create a strong image for customers of unification, it would also make it easier for handsets to be upgraded, which reduces fragmentation. Partners that step away would reduce Android’s market share and end the monopoly-based antitrust investigation.

Of course one of those partners could be Samsung, but arguably that would be a good thing…

Next, read our run-down of the Samsung Galaxy S4's biggest problems...

Joey Murps

May 10, 2013, 12:43 pm

ITV survives through its advertising. I'm surprised their advertisers haven't got something to say about this even if with Samsung most of the Android market is covered...

Gordon Kelly

May 10, 2013, 1:03 pm

A very good point. If they are being compensated for the reduced audience the deal could be bigger again.


May 10, 2013, 1:10 pm

Doubt it. I can't imagine ITV makes much money out of its mobile apps at present, which is probably why it made the deal in the first place.

Matthew Salmon

May 10, 2013, 1:12 pm

ITV player isn't a critical app - not many people will miss it. Agree that Samsung are bullying the other manufacturers tho - as seen in recent stories about them hiring students to write neg reviews on HTC products.

I disagree with the HTC one being better than the s4 - as the S4 has removeable storage and battery - 2 things that make owning a heavily used smartphone a lot easier.. Also there is nothing wrong with making phones from plastic - although I agree that the top phones are ridiculously priced at over £500 - more than a core i5 laptop with 1TB harddtrive..

Touchwiz has its advantages - including supporting social integration like facebook - a feature I missed when owning a nexus - and it optimizes usage for the galaxy and Note phones.

So is Samsung hurting android? I would say no - infact their development of the best phones on the market in the last 2yrs have been of real benefit to the OS and allowed to really trump IOS in my view..

Gordon Kelly

May 10, 2013, 1:23 pm

Thanks for the considered thoughts Matthew. I think there are a number of equally valid viewpoints on this and that is one of them.

I do think there is more to this than Google benefits because Samsung selling lots of phones though. Especially when Samsung's Android strategy actually hurts development of the OS and removes content for existing Android customers.

As for the One is the better phone, but I do wish it had expandable storage. Even our head to head said it was very close though.

Personally I'm happy with my Nexus 4, but that'll likely change with a Nexus 5. Isn't technology wonderful at making you discontent with your devices :)


May 10, 2013, 1:34 pm

Samsung will be shooting itself in the foot if it thinks it can treat Android users like iSheeple. But I don't think Samsung will.

Gordon Kelly

May 10, 2013, 1:39 pm

Very true.

I don't think Samsung will ever take its Android users for granted, it is how it treats the wider Android community that - at least for me - is increasingly being called into question.


May 10, 2013, 2:07 pm

Samsung smells more like an Apple every day!

Gordon Kelly

May 10, 2013, 2:53 pm

There may be a pun in there somewhere :)

Nate Ebner

May 10, 2013, 3:17 pm

Ugh, at least with Google it is arguably making things better for consumers.
I really hope they have been pro-actively planning for this, and that Key Lime Pie, will be coded in a skinnable fashion, so that OEMs can add a custom skin with their devices, as well as stock, and add any apps they develop, but aside from apps, and a skin, they all run the same software.
This just leaves hardware profiles to be updated, when new editions of Android are released.

Then figure out a way to make Lemon Sherbet, or whatever it will be called, performance scalable down to a single core 1 GHZ processor with 512MB RAM or so, and up to the 16 core behemoths or whatever will be the high end by then, and get the OEMs to update all their devices under 4 years old to run on it.

Those twos steps would cut down on much of the fragmentation, allowing all phones going forward to be quickly updated to the latest version of Android, to be customisable for the user, and not hobbled by bloatware.

As a start Google should make it possible to uninstall any of their apps too. I'm always going to use GMail and Google Maps, but Google Play Magazines, never, let me get rid, and pick myself. Make your products be stand outs that I want to use, as many of them are.

Gordon Kelly

May 10, 2013, 3:21 pm

Spot on, this works both ways. As I mentioned, Google is guilty of what Samsung has been doing on other platforms so it can't really cry foul. It just has to decide how to respond.

I think come 'Lemon Sherbert' (!) we may hopefully be in a realm of power where even budget phones are super smooth and the likes of the Nexus 4 and 7 have already set strong precedents for anything entering the budget segment.

Making Android more compartmentalised is a strong idea. Google has already done that to an extent with the likes of Google Maps now being upgradeable inside the Play store when it used to be part of firmware upgrades, but there will be a limit to how much of the core of Android can be handled this way.

Hopefully we'll get a glimpse of Google's future thinking in I/O next week...


May 10, 2013, 4:04 pm

Conpiracy at best, I would say. First of all, let me establish that while I do love my galaxy s3, I'm not a particularly big fan of Samsung. That being said, it would be unlikely that Samsung would want to hurt android, seeing as how its flagships still rely heavily on google services, especially the playstore.

As for the whole business about this ITV exclusive app, it's really nothing new. Don't get me wrong; it does fragment android to some extent, but it's nothing that other OEMs have not done before. For example, Nvidia has been paying countless companies to release games exclusively for tegra devices. Of all the nexus devices, only one is equipped with a tegra chip. So you get the picture.

Obviously though, Samsung would want Tizen to overthrow android and iOS, but I highly doubt it will risk intentionally wounding android for that purpose. After all, iOS is still a very substantial and formidable enemy that Samsung can not yet beat without Google.

Nate Ebner

May 10, 2013, 5:14 pm

I expect you are right about how much of the core can/can't be changed.

I just think you have two important criteria that need to be balanced. Firstly OEMs need to be able to distinguish their products, and secondly consumers/developers need better choice and less fragmentation.

If Android could be recoded, in such a way that its GUI was skinnable (Editable icons, colours, folders etc), this would take care of the visual side and differentiation, while allowing users to revert to the stock Android skin, or make their own/download new ones from Google Play. I can't find a link, but Football Manager did this a number of years
back, and while I presume it would be a big job to change, it shouldn't
be that hard to code it in.

Then you basically lock down changes to the core Android OS, while still leaving it easy for apps to interact with it. So features can be added by OEMs packaging their own apps with it (Like Air Touch, Smart Scroll, Zoe etc).

If you then allow any app to be uninstalled (core apps like messaging, dialer etc, could come with a prompt to make sure you have an alternative), you create the open customisable vision that Android started with, while speeding up the viability of OS updates, and simplifying the ecosystem for developers, while simultaneously offering more custom options and freedom of choice.

Simples, as they say. And ditto with you on I/O.

Nate Ebner

May 10, 2013, 5:17 pm

Yes it is.
Despite hoping for big new changes with Key Lime Pie, at the same time, I don't want to be getting too jumpy about moving on from my HTC One, especially with 22 months or so to go.

The advantage with going with a new Nexus, if Google releases them like the 4, is that you can just buy the handset if you can't wait, at a reasonable cost, while finishing the last couple of months of your contract, and then negotiating it right down. Sell your old one, and you may even turn a small profit.


May 10, 2013, 5:44 pm

I just ordered my HTC One. No Samsung Galaxy for me.

Gordon Kelly

May 11, 2013, 2:32 pm

It could well be conspiracy, it's merely my opinion and I think yours is equally valid.

I do think Samsung is not acting in Android's interest now though. There Nvidia example is interesting, but it isn't damaging the core at the heart of its graphics cards by getting manufacturer exclusives - Samsung is hurting Android by doing so.

At this stage Samsung is so big that it won't want to ride on the coattails of Android forever. It has developed Tizen for a reason and it is heavily customising Android (and making Tizen look just the same) for reason.

We'll just have to wait and see how it all plans out. But whichever way it goes it should be fascinating to watch :)

Gordon Kelly

May 11, 2013, 2:32 pm

Good choice IMO

Gordon Kelly

May 11, 2013, 2:35 pm

Absolutely. Bizarrely you can actually look to Windows here for inspiration. Window's appearance can be customised almost infinitely, but it doesn't affect the ability of the core of the OS to be updated. Windows is also designed to seamlessly update on every combination of hardware imaginable.

It can be done!

Gordon Kelly

May 11, 2013, 2:38 pm

Indeed. I haven't actually signed a contract for over 5 years now. I have a sim-only 30 day rolling contract (currently 3's One Plan) and switch handsets when I want with unlocked handsets also having a better resale value.

That said I wrote a feature about this recently and the financial benefits aren't as strong as you might imagine. You're buying freedom rather than making any great savings: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...


May 11, 2013, 4:16 pm

You can still access the ITV Player through the ITV website though, can't you?

simon t

May 11, 2013, 9:52 pm

The Xperia Z for me I think.

simon t

May 11, 2013, 9:56 pm

What an interesting read. Bravo sir. I for one have never really been sucked in to Samsung. I feel that their bloatware is huge and a lot of it not very useful. Touchwizz makes everything look child like...especially when you throw in AMOLED screens in to the mix. Everything looks so over saturated.

Charlie Mainelli

May 11, 2013, 10:39 pm

I used to own a Galaxy Note, coming from Sony Xperia Arc S. Initially it was good and I did enjoy the big screen but as time passed I noticed its battery drained faster than my Arc's did + the UI was beyond horrible (Touch Wiz) its flashy bright and made show off but lacks the quality and usability of HTC launcher and Sony's UI, not to mention the phone became horribly slow after recent Jelly Bean update add to that random restarts. I went to Samsung service center and I was shocked when they said motherboard was damaged, good thing the phone was in warranty so replacement was free.. but the problem didnt go away. finally I was so frustrated I had to stop using it and go back to my old Arc S, much happier.. Will be buying Xperia Z in a day or so. Never again a Samsung phone.

Daniel Gerson

May 12, 2013, 10:29 am

I completely disagree that this is inevitable.

It's always easy to look at current trends and then project them into future catastrophes. Look at the peak oil people


and yet we have more oil today than ever before. Doesn't mean we won't eventually run out, but predictions for 150 years in this space have been wrong! Why have they been wrong? Because the dynamics are complex. Shortages means high price means more profit on discovery.

If we took the trend in 2009, we would have said that a "command and control" strategy would mean that Apple would dominate the smartphone space. Turned out not to be true. Why? Android allowed more experimentation by manufacturers than apple could keep up with.

This article represents yet another prediction in this mold. Here are some more targetted reasons why Samsung will be unlikely to pull it off.

1) It's really really hard to create an maintain a developer ecosystem. This is not the same as shipping units, which is what Intel & Samsung have previously done. There's a reason why Nobody outside Microsoft, Apple & Google have been able to create and maintain a User-focussed level operating systems. Nokia couldn't do it. Samsung previously failed to do this.

It completely comes down to company culture. Developers can't be told what to do, there needs to be clear & appropriate dialog between developers who need to communicate what they need to achieve to developers of the OS. Even Amazon hasn't been very effective in branching android.. (although I suspect that their EC2 team does have the right culture to pull this off, they are quite distinct from the rest of the company, who just have to ship widgets). Just watch a couple of Google IO talks on developing for Android, and you can email ANY of those developers & developer advocates inside Google. Try find similar videos for Amazon's android offering, or Samsung etc... the culture isn't there.

2) Google has teeth & real teeth. After the massive failure that was Apple Maps, people realize that you cannot easily remove Google's services from any smartphone. Google's "do no evil" policy has meant that they have only ever filed counter litigations on patent infringements. HOWEVER, they could reframe this with a tougher stance, while still staying within the lines of "do no evil". I.e. They could make their software cross dependent, meaning that vendors would have to take all Google's services or none. They now have the rational for doing this as Google+ comes to dominate their "single user experience" philosophy.

3) Samsung have yet to create a SINGLE killer app! Now creating a platform is really hard and I don't expect most to be able to achieve it (refer to point 1), but Samsung has yet to even demonstrate that in a single contained piece of software, they have what it takes to deliver something notable outside gimmicks that people never really use. This is a much more severe criticism. Even their flavour over and above stock-android isn't a Must-have.

4) Even should they contract with ITV to release an only Samsung app, AND even should they offer ITV some APIs which are Samsung only APIs to encourage lock in... It still pays ITV to design their app in a way which makes it portable to other platforms. This is the most important trend in software development since the 80s. Reusability.

Consider the game Tupsu http://goo.gl/q4f0h , released on Android & iOS & the web, despite being a natively developed app. Developed by 1 developer, with over a million installs. Why is this relevant? Because it wouldn't have been possible without PlayN, a 20% project at Google that enables developers to avoid platform lock in when developing games. This is BY FAR the more important trend, and it will continue. Similar things can be seen with company's offerings like Xamarin. There is a trade-off that comes with this and the most cutting edge games, but the trend is still on the side of reusability.

For all these reasons, I'm not worried at all about Samsung's intended monopoly.


Gordon Kelly

May 12, 2013, 2:48 pm

Many thanks. I'm not a fan of the TouchWiz UI and bloatware either. It will fascinating to see where Samsung goes over the next 12/18 months.

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