Why Samsung Needs to Fork Android

Posted on April 20, 2012

Source: wikipedia

Today Samsung is the largest manufacturer of Android handsets by market share with 25.6% according to ComScore. Moreover, reviewers tend to highly consider the Samsung units, frequently placing them at the head of buyer’s guides.

All of this to say that today, Samsung has a lot of momentum in the market place. Samsung has always been very good at creating electronic devices and adding in nice design features to win over customers. Witness how they captured the LCD flatscreen TV market.

Looking at their digital stack, they are a manufacturer of Windows computers, Android Tablets and Android phones. They have the beginnings of a platform here that can compete with Apple.

Samsung Needs a Cloud

However, to really be able to compete with Apple, and be able to make a stake in the higher-margin electronics business, Samsung will need to offer cloud services. In much the same way that Apple’s embryonic iCloud service ties together user activities on the iPhone, iPad and Mac; Samsung needs SCloud to do the same on their devices.

Given that eventually everyone will have at least a smartphone and a tablet, and very likely a computer, this will allow Samsung to tie customers into their ecosystem. It will allow Samsung to increase their average selling prices as customers are locked in, but are getting more value.

Hence Samsung’s SCloud needs to be a private cloud, only available on Samsung devices, just like iCloud. It will provide a lot of value for Samsung’s customers.

Samsung needs to fork Android

In order to be able to offer SCloud, Samsung would need to integrate it on the operating system level so that it’s available as an API to all developers. In order to do this, they will have to fork Android and take on the mantle of developing an operating system themselves.

This might sound like a controversial and even heretical move, but now is exactly the right time to make it. No one doubts that Google is making a more vertically integrated GPhone from its Motorola acquisition – they may even make a phone that is better than a Samsung phone. So Samsung might be pushed by this to compete as an also-ran with LG, Sony and HTC. Of course, Google has yet to pull this off, but there’s a 50% chance they will.

So the choice for Samsung is either to sit back and hope for the best, or to compete in the same way Google intends too. However, Google has no desktop computers. Their Cloud platform will always be based upon their web services, which is a different take on the cloud problem in that they want everyone to use HTML based applications.

Samsung can differentiate itself by offering a complete hardware and software solution stack, particularly in the smartphone and tablet arenas.

Another potential competitor is Microsoft. While they haven’t been very competitive of late, and Windows Phone has yet to prove itself, the availability of Windows 8 on tablets in fall of this year may suddenly propel them into the game. I’m sure than Microsoft will also offer a Cloud platform too.

Can Samsung Sustain a Forked Android?

Forking Android means that Samsung has to maintain and update it. That’s actually an opportunity for Samsung because they can keep tight control and offer regular updates of the OS to its users, rather like Apple does. That’s another differentiating factor from other Android manufacturers.

Today, Samsung already creates its own proprietary layer for their devices called Touchwiz. Why not go a bit further and own the whole operating system?

The big question is can Samsung bring developers on board? Such a fork would create a big fragmentation in the Android ecosystem, especially with regard to the introduction of SCloud APIs. It’s not sure that developers would be happy about this.

On Samsung’s side though is their market share. At 25.6% market share, they control access to a lot of consumers. Many developers today are probably focusing on Samsung’s devices because they are the leading devices, and there’s a good chance that would continue with a forked version of Android. At the end of the day, developers want audience and if Samsung offers that audience, then that’s where developers will go.