Android: Beyond Amazon and Samsung
January 10, 2012
I bought a phone from an outfit in China. I have been in some interesting cities in that vast, time immune nation state. The phone cost about $40 US. It runs a version of Android, supports two SIMMS, and worked with over the counter SIMMs from Europe and the US. I am not sure the phone is available in the US, but when I head to the damp, hot flood plains of Cambodia, I will tote my trust no name mobile gizmo. The BlackBerry is a technical clunker compared to this $40, two-SIMM device.
I thought about my gizmo when I read Samsung vs Google by the respected manager and investor Jean-Louis Gassée. I agree with most of his points, but I have worked with French wizards long enough to know that life is easier if one looks at the French as having outstanding technical capabilities, not just a nice country in which to purchase cheese. So no push back from me about the main point of the write up:
But even if we “de-propagandize” the numbers, Samsung is clearly the number one Android handset maker, and, just as clearly, it’s taking large chunks of market share from the other two leading players: Motorola and HTC both announced lower than expected Q4CY11 numbers. HTC’s unit volume was 10 million units, down from 13.2 million in Q3; Motorola got 10.5 million units in Q4, down from 11.6 million in Q3. This leaves us with the potential for an interesting face-off. Not Samsung vs Motorola/HTC, but…Samsung vs. Google. As Erik Sherman observes in his CBS MoneyWatch post, since Samsung ships close to 55% of all Android phones, the company could be in a position to twist Google’s arm. 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 (the $$ flowing when Google’s search engine is used on a smartphone), earlier access to Android releases, a share of advertising revenue… Will Google let Samsung gain the upper hand? Not likely, or at least not for long.There’s Motorola, about to become a fully-owned but “independent” Google subsidiary. A Googorola vertically-integrated smartphone line could counterbalance Samsung’s influence.
What caught my attention is the interesting role of Amazon in the Android avalanche. Amazon has used Android in its apparently successful Kindle Fire. The Amazon approach reminded me of the Chinese dual SIMM mobile phone. Android was like the lift a dude ranch rider gets from the trail ride boss. Android gets the dudes on the horses. Once on the horses, both dudes and animals can behave in unpredictable ways.
What is not in the write up is the possibility that the Amazons, Chinese mobile makers, and Samsung may use that open source Android in idiosyncratic ways. Even a dude ranch guest can make a horse behave, and in some cases turn the “head to the barn” mindset into a wild gallop. Can Google manage one or more run away horses? Will the clueless dude ranch rider develop some new affinity with the horse and make it do new tricks? Will the horse come back to the barn?
Google’s risk lies beyond Amazon and Samsung. Android in the hands of the clever engineers who developed my two SIMM phone may not behave as desired. Once out of the barn, life can be even more interesting. Is Google prepared for that type of “interesting”? I think that Google has to demonstrate that the freedom which created the Android herd can keep the nags under control. Does Jeff Bezos don a saddle and bridle each morning? Does the maker of my mobile with two SIMMs respond to Google’s trail boss and his whistle? Will Samsung trot back to the barn in a docile, predictable way? I think not.
Stephen E Arnold, January 10, 2012
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