For the past three years, Android has experienced a kind of free space expansion, but as we enter 2012, it seems the game may be changing. Instead of the old 'there's more than enough room for every Android handset maker to be a winner,' we have a three-horse's-length leader: Samsung shipping close to 55% of all Android phones, while Motorola and HTC lag behind. '[Samsung] could be in a position to twist Google's arm,' writes Jean-Louis Gassée.'If last quarter's trend continues — if Motorola and HTC lose even more ground — Samsung's bargaining position will become even stronger.' But what is Samsung's 'bargaining position'? What could they want? Perhaps more search referral money, earlier access to Android releases, or a share of advertising revenue. Will Google let Samsung gain the upper hand? It's not likely, because Motorola is about to become a fully-owned but 'independent' Google subsidiary, and its 16% of the Android market could counterbalance Samsung's influence to some extent. So what could Samsung do? 'Consider the Kindle Fire example: Just like Amazon picked the Android lock, Samsung could grab the Android Open Source code and create its own unlicensed but fully legal smartphone OS and still benefit from a portion of Android apps, or it could build its own app store the way Amazon did,' writes Gassée. 'Samsung is a tough, determined fighter and won't let Google dictate its future. The same can be said of Google. This is going to be interesting.
If Samsung does as Mr. Gassee suggests and follows Amazon's lead then we can see where it leads quite quickly.
Let's segway and take a look at Apple. Darwin created the ability to run an proprietary OS on rather generic hardware. Intel based "Hackintosh" netbooks and laptops show up from time to time and although it is different we know it is possible and even desirable.
Back to android, we see Amazon's Kindle has already been rooted and several versions of android can be used off the hardware with little or no modification needed at the app level. With Apple breathing down Samsung's neck about the Galaxy Tab it would make sense for Samsung to innovate a bit and create an iPad competitor that combines an android based OS with features enjoyed by the iPad and existing high end android phones. All this with next to non-existent re-coding on the software development end.
There are three places Samsung could really doom themselves:
1) Piss off Apple more by not having some originality in design.
I know there are only so many ways to create a computer tablet but there are ways to make the case and hard interface keys more than 20% different. Even if most of the buttons don't get used. slap them on anyway and give them some interesting function. Have one randomly generate a noise only Jeb Bush can hear.
2) Level demands aimed at Google.
There is a certain amount of certainty that Apple would love to see this happen. Because Google would ignore it, really irritating Samsung who would do something really dumb like make a new Web OS-like product adding another $100 dollars to any product using it. Even worse would be retaliation from Google in the form of intentionally superior products making market at a loss (like the Kindle Fire) ending Samsung's 55% dominance with one well timed product release.
3) Use closed source drivers along side proprietary hardware to beat anyone to taking their controlling market share.
This could be exacerbated by using 3rd party hardware. Samsung already has a few entry level android users in arms with the Galaxy and its cousins like the Prevail and Precedent. These devices are missing software components making them difficult (and sometimes impossible) to pair with bluetooth devices. The reason for this omission is because the components conflicted with their specialized bluetooth interface. This makes using third party hardware a trial to use. Sometime requiring end users to root and work around the crippled bluetooth software. Imagine If Samsung repeated this mistake but also broke compatibility with their existing interface by omitting addition software to make it compatible with devices they farmed out manufacturing and support for in order to boost production rate.
Getting some originality and making sure their hardware is affordable and more compatible would see Samsung well into the next generation of android based devices. They just need to grab some ideas and see what takes. Hell, I have an idea that could really catch on. If an end-user such as myself could have a unique idea then I imagine someone at Samsung could speak up and really start something new. They just have to make the effort and keep it parallel to Google.
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