The Problem With Samsung And Jelly Bean

The Galaxy S III has turned out to be a raging success for Samsung, selling 10 million units worldwide in mere weeks. It might just be another phone, but the Galaxy S III introduces a bigger challenge that will affect Android phone manufacturers, Google's Android platform, and you and me as end users. It could see users end up with a nerfed version of Jelly Bean, or even Samsung ditching Android altogether in favour of its own platform.

There are currently something like 39 original equipment manufacturers (OEM) making millions of Android devices, and standing out from the crowd is usually a matter of customising the look with skins. But the Galaxy S III confirmed that the Korean hardware giant is no longer content with just having TouchWiz to differentiate its products — it came complete with its own version of Siri and context-specific abilities like Smart Stay, Smart Alert and Direct Call. Last year, it launched its cross-platform chatON service, and just last week it launched its S Health app. And you can bet there's a lot more to come, because Samsung is getting serious about software.

Overlapping software

It looks like some of these software features will overlap with parts of Jelly Bean, which the Galaxy S III will get at some point. S Voice and S Beam are essentially the same thing as Google Now and Android Beam. Jelly Bean's voice search and Google Now looks promising, but it serves the same purpose as Samsung's S Voice feature. Meanwhile, Android Beam in Jelly Bean has added the ability to transfer photos and videos, just like S Beam. Android Beam is slower as it uses Bluetooth to do the transfer, but it can be used on any NFC-enabled Android device. S Beam uses Wi-Fi Direct for faster transfers, but it can only be used between Galaxy S III devices. These minor differences don't change the fact that they both achieve the same task at the end.

So how will Samsung integrate Jelly Bean into Galaxy S III devices? As we reported back in February, there's a time-consuming production line behind Android updates. Every Android OEM, including Samsung, modifies software updates from Google to ensure that it works smoothly with its hardware, custom skins and preloaded apps. The question is how will Samsung modify Jelly Bean so that similar features don't clash and negatively impact the user experience? It wouldn't really make sense to have both Android Beam and S Beam taking up precious space when they virtually do the same thing. Google Now offers something a little different to S Voice, but at the end of the day they're both Siri-like voice assistants. If Samsung had to make a decision, no one would blame it for favouring its own software.

But Samsung can't afford to upset users with a move like that — brand loyalty is a rare thing in an overcrowded market with high turnover rates. It's bad enough that users are left waiting for months to receive Android updates, so there's no way users would tolerate Samsung telling us which bits of Jelly Bean they can and can't have. And most users, given the choice, would choose the "pure" Android experience over Samsung's solution.

The case for a proprietary platform

Something's gotta give. Samsung is pushing harder than ever to integrate software with its hardware in order to defend its position as the world's top smartphone maker against Apple, who is its only real competitor from a profitability stance. Now that Samsung has earned a reputation with users, could it be getting ready to ditch Android? Although Samsung publicly supported Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility in August last year, Samsung's chairman, Lee Kun-Hee, reportedly called a company meeting and stressed over the shift in power from hardware to software. And in a company speech on June 18, Samsung's new CEO, Kwon Oh-Hyun, said that "absolute lead" in the market depended on the software side of the business. Kwon said:

Our company is at an inflection point in our bid to be a genuine global number one... complacency will put us on the same path as the countless other companies that have faded into the mist.

Kwon's speech raised speculation once more that Samsung might be preparing to move its devices over to a proprietary platform. It already has one in the form of Bada, which we don't hear a lot about since it's currently limited to the mid-range Wave series of smartphones. But recent activity suggests that Samsung has bigger plans for the fledgling OS. It recently announced that Bada would merge with the Linux-based Tizen OS, but it's not clear yet what they're hoping to achieve. Samsung is also said to be considering an open-source licence for Bada to attract developers and pump up its app store, Samsung Apps. It's even handing out $100,000 cash prizes to Bada developers for the first 10 apps that clock up 100,000 downloads.

By dropping Android and moving to its own platform, Samsung gains what Apple had from the beginning — total control of the hardware and the software, end to end. The extraordinary popularity of the iPhone gave Apple the sort of clout no one else could dream of demanding. Apple controls software updates, Apple controls when users get them, and Apple refused to let carriers install bloatware. And if carriers didn't want to play the game Apple's way, they were simply told to go away. If Samsung, HTC or any of the others demanded the same thing, the carriers would laugh in their faces and take the next Android device in line.

Now that Google owns Motorola Mobility, Samsung and Google should be considered competitors for all intents and purposes. It could explain why Google broke its relationship with Samsung for its Nexus line of devices and appointed Asus to make its Nexus 7 tablet. Even if Google said it would keep Android open (it's a condition of the merger that it remains open for at least five years), it has every right to change its mind and lock down the platform later on. And as if Google wouldn't give Motorola — now one of its own — some sort of advantage. Early access to Android builds, faster updates or some other exclusive arrangement would surely be expected as part of the deal for Motorola.

This is all just speculation; it's possible that Samsung values Android too much to ditch it completely. The LTE version of the Galaxy S III reportedly received a last-minute bump in RAM to ensure that it would run on Jelly Bean, so that alone shows its commitment to Android. Samsung is certainly keeping us distracted; in the last 24 hours alone the company launched a music app in the UK, as well as the Galaxy Chat smartphone with QWERTY keyboard and Ice Cream Sandwich. But Samsung still has to figure out what to do about the Jelly Bean features that double up with its own software features.

What will Samsung do? What should Samsung do? The company has been diligent about Android updates lately, so we shouldn't have too long to wait.


Comments

    Give the users the Android experience that they want so that updates can be pushed out faster!

    This talk of Samsung ditching Android scares me as I can see it happening. I love Samsung for phones, but unless it comes up with something pretty damned impressive I won't be ditching Android. The Google integration for contacts, calendar, directions for contracts etc etc is too handy for me to ignore.

      I on the other hand, can't see Samsung ditching Android; can't see Google closing off Android and think that the Nexus 7 is evidence that Google's acquisition of Motorola was for patents, not hardware.
      Dollar signs are flashing up whenever someone mentions Android. With 12 activations per second, the eco system is growing at a radios rate, even if you take away the upgraders' activations. To suggest that Samsung will walk away from the party at its most lucrative state is folly!
      Samsung will have identified the possible risk of Android collapse (albeit a miniscule risk) and reacted by ensuring they have a backup plan - bada. As an ecosystem, however, bada will never be able to compete with the big 3; for evidence, witness Nokia's demise and Microsoft's win 7 phone failure, due to inability to flood the market with phones running software that was relevant - ie the games that people want to play.
      Google won't close off Android completely for much the same reasons - it will at some point require handset manufacturers to pay a higher licensing fee at some point in the future, but that will just trim away the no-name device builders, having the side effect that quality of devices will go up. Again, if you think Google will walk away from the monster revenue stream the play store generates, you've got another thing coming.
      Finally, Samsung didn't ditch 'talk' from their phones when they built 'chat on' - both are visible. They will leave their S voice product in prime view (shortcut on the desktop) and still leave google now in the phone. They may elect to ignore updating S voice in the future, but it doesn't put them at any disadvantage for now - space really is not at a premium in these phones any more!

        Bada is not a back up plan. Just sayin'.

          You're on the money I think Keithy ... Google will probably never charge for android.. It just makes it that much more attractive for people to use over other OS's. Also keep in mind that Google just released the N7, at virtually no profit. Google doesn't care about making money off hardware. Its the software that's important. Getting Google into more home and lives > making money off hardware or licensing. IMO the N7 is a game changer for consumers. Amazing quality, amazing performance amazing price. If you want a cheap tab now you don't have to settle for crap performing hardware with zero upgrade path.

      You realise that both iOS and Windows Phone have basically the same level of integration (with Google Services)?

    I have to agree that its software that is usually the downfall of hardware companies. Usually driver support which is a minimal issue compared with complete software suites.

      I agree with you. That is the main reason I moved to iPhone.

        You know, I had an original HTC Desire and have just purchased the S3 as my second phone, admittedly I have a rooted customized version of Gingerbread on my Desire - purely as there is no memory on this thing and needed to use the SD card to store the amount of apps I have. I also have a transformer TF101. But all this talk about needing the "latest" version of the OS confuses me. I've not come across software that I can't run and lot of the later features seem to be nice to have's rather than need to haves. Samsung ditching Android - love to see it happen, I'd love to see them convince all developers to port their software to another platform because they want them to. The fragmentation of Android only drives people to newer hardware which is a good thing. Do I want Jelly bean on my S3 - sure why not, but if it doesn't happen I'm not going to go crying, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do anything I want on ICS without an issue. This talk of yet another Phone OS is simply - stupid.

    If Samsung ditches Android and go back to Bada or any of other of their own software then they would effectively become a closed ecosystem much like Apple. Then they would make their phones' bootloaders unlockable or brick if tried to unlock - they will have to do this if they want to preserve their ecosystem.

    People buy Android because it is customisable, once Samsung looses this feature then they can kiss goodbye to sales.

    One way they can please everyone is that at the phone's first start up prompt the user if he/she want to adjust simple settings or advanced settings. If simple settings, just give them S Beam - they probably will be quite happy as long as they can transfer stuff. If advanced settings, give them the option to choose which apps they want to go with - Samsung's or Jelly Bean's. Remove the apps not wanted by the user.

    Simple as.

      This is what I was going to say. Bada would mean I moved away from Samsung in a heartbeat. And it would be very annoying to be with an OS starting from scratch with a very limited market. Bada would have to amazing and Samsung would have to be open to the modding community still having an important role, to be remotely of interest.

    "Even if Google said it would keep Android open (it’s a condition of the merger that it remains open for at least five years), it has every right to change its mind and lock down the platform later on"

    This line alone is enough reason to avoid Android and it sounds vaguely familiar, almost like Google is following the leader again...

      You'll be avoiding everything using that logic.

    I like Samsung's hardware, but I like the OS platform more!

    unless a new unix based bada OS is spectacular beyond wild imagination i cant imagine moving away from android being a smart move, history and current trends have all signs pointing to any attempts to compete with the big boys as a colosal waste of money, historically symbian ruled the roost and despite all efforts by motorola, samsung and others they could never crack it, now with android and ios both fighting as top spot mobile os's it will be hard for others to muscle in windows phone being the prime example its tiny market share despite billions spent prove just how strong the top 2 are and not every company has microsoft $ or weight to throw around.

    the way i see it and i know this is true of many people i know, i buy samsung because i think its the best device maker in the android ecosystem not because samsung make great devices with awesome add on apps and a nice skin for android, its the android part that i want first.

    leaving aside the fact that i truely believe android should lock down the android ecosystem more and get rid of skins, i think looking to future samsung and other oems should do what they have begun to do withe s3 and its S-apps and that it provide a suite of apps that either expand on android features or add additional ones in a manner thats optimised for their devices, like s-beam offering a wifi alternative to beams bluetooth, so in short they should make great devices for android and then provide great apps on top of that

    I only just changed to android (SSG3) from Apple. If they go with their own OS, I'm backing out and getting another Android (unless their OS release is kickass!)

    If you have a look at Google's history with partnered devices, you'll find that it backs what they have always said; that the Nexus line is open to all manufacturers. They've gone with HTC twice (G 1, Nexus One), Motorola twice (Droid, Xoom), Samsung twice (Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus: and Asus once (Nexus 7).
    I'm not seeing a "relationship" with Samsung more than the other guys.

    Google now cards + S-Voice for assistant. Keep S-Beam but add the ability to do it on bluetooth only to maintain compatibility with other JB devices.

    Moving away from android would be a bad move IMO.

    People love Android more than they do Samsung. Simple. People who want Windows don't really care about the brand. It's the software that matters. They want a good device with good specs that run the best smartphone OS in the world which is Android.

    See the thing is. I read somewhere that after 8 months only 10% of compatible handsets have upgraded to gingerbread.... let alone ICS in recent months.
    So all thing hoo haa about new version is only relevant to us tech heads who actually care, and who most likely know how to upgrade a phone.
    Otherwise to everyone else, it's simple a marketing term... "OOO look the new phone comes with an ice cream sandwich. "
    I'm all for new versions but i think most people don't care what version they are on as long as their phone and most of their apps work.

      "So all thing hoo haa about new version is only relevant to us tech heads who actually care, and who most likely know how to upgrade a phone.".
      Not true, there are many handsets which either
      a) Will not be upgraded to the latest OS
      b) Will get an update, but is delayed by the manufacturer, network provider
      c) People don't want to update because the new OS doesn't offer any remarkable updates (I know a few "tech headed" people who don't want to update their SGII to ICS as it offers them no improvement whatsoever, thanks to crapwiz)
      On the other hand >70% of ios users are using the latest version, does that make ios users as "tech headed"?
      *Insert mandatory line of device being used to show people that I'm not being a fanboi/fandroid*: Galaxy Nexus

    If Samsung ditches Android I will ditch Samsung. Who wants another blackberry.

    Great article with great points! I just purchased an S3 moving over from an iphone. To find out a new version of android is out was a little eh.. upsetting. And finding out the process in which the update goes through to pass onto non google devices was somewhat of an eye opener. I love android o/s already over apple's. And im eager to get this so called Jelly Bean on my new S3, but knowing the possible wait is quite off putting. I think it would be nice for samsung to stick to android and build a closer relationship in terms of updates and so forth rather than keeping them so far apart which is why android users and their versions vary so much.

      there is always a wait with android. google will announce it and thats when others are allowed to get their hands on it. Apple announces when its ready and is available. thats the difference.

    They are a hardware company, they can differentiate by making excellent hardware (dur?)

      That is exactly how they got to be the no.1 phone manufacturer in the world. But when you are also manufacturing components for your biggest, most bitter rival (Samsung make the screens and CPUs for iPhone/iPad and probably a lot more) and when every smartphone looks like every other smartphone, you need to do more to stay at the top of the heap. Of course, Samsung have that ace up their sleeves if they are as close to releasing a phone with a flexible display as we were led to believe last year.

        haha bitter rival - the real world of business doesn't revolve around 'bitter rivalries' like nerds on the internet would love to imagine.

        If they are making the screens for Ipads and Iphones, WHY can't they make a decent one for the S3 that you can actually SEE in bright light??!!??

    Despite some quite convincing parts, this is actually almost all speculation, very much along the lines of predicting the shape and form of the new iphone. Take it with a bucket of salt.

      I don't think the question about what Samsung will do is speculation, i think it's a legitimate question and it explores the possible options they have. Saying something is speculation for the sake of it tends to keep your mind set on the present, which is fine but makes boring reading.

        I say it's "speculation" because this article offers up some pretty wild leaps and jumps and makes them seem a lot more plausible than they are. The fact is, most of this IS just speculation based on specific and personal interpretations of current trends ie. app mirroring.
        Other interpretations of the same trends would lead to wildly different speculation, this is why it's important to point out this article for what it really is.

          I'm with you ozoneocean - it is just that - speculation.

          JB is only just out the gate, so give manufacturers a chance!

    I think all phone manufacturers should let the user opt in to taking either their skin or googles skin. It could be a download so as to not to chew up the phones resources in having 2 OS's on the one phone. If the user decides they do not like the skin they can change it to whatever they prefer. That way we could see instant updates to the next available OS depnding on what we go with. Give the user the option of choosing what they want. Stop bogging down our hardware with useless bloatware that messes up the usability of the device and ruins the user experience. Give the user some freedoms to say yes we want that or no we don't. Until they can come to a compromise such as this we are always going to have long delay issues between OS updates.

    From my understanding if Samsung did choose to go with their own OS they would still be able to integrate it to work with the android market and apps (the play book...I think ). This could be a suitable merger as it would leave Samsung to do its thing but still keep it in a similar market direction and have a similar/familiar content portfolio

    Android has been a massive success for Samsung and vice versa. I don't see either company jeopardizing such a recipe for success simply because there's software overlap in a couple of areas.

    Nexus devices, increasingly, are a terrific option for for those of us that prefer the pure Google experience. Galaxy S phones running a mix of software is not a problem (like S Beam and Android Beam). There are more than enough resources in a Galaxy S 3 to have both types of software on the one phone.

    Bye bye Android = bye bye Samsung for me. Sammy's TW software gimmicky garbage and having to wait for Android updates because of it is insulting. Nearly everyone I use dumps it for a any number of more usable launchers out there. Galaxy note screen real estate is the only reason I am sticking with them, but why on earth they put the bloody power button on the opposite side to the volume rocker is beyond me, stupid, real stupid.

    What's with the freaking out? Samsung won't ditch Android for Bada or Tizen. Android is the reason for the success of the galaxy range. If they want to use their apps in place of certain Jellybean features then they'll just uninstall the relevant apk files. They already do something similar anyway. Look at Vlingo on the SGS2. It replaces Google Car Home and blocks you from installing it from the play store.
    And Google won't be making Android a closed OS. The Motorola purchase was for the patents, to ensure Android can stay open sourced and continue to develop.

    I think all manufacturers should remove their skins from Android and just include features in the form of pre installed apps. The experience between Android phones should be consistent and updates should be pushed out more quickly. Samsung and other should just focus on creating the best hardware to make the Android experience more enjoyable. Windows Phone 7 has struggled to gain market share and it is a great OS and has a big PC user/fan base to help. Samsung would be starting from scratch. The Galaxy SII was just a nice piece of hardware. I don't think any won got it for the Samsung Skin.

    Maybe I will just install Windows Phone 8 on my GSIII.

      That would be a nice phone.

    Android...Samsung..LOL. What happens when two large masses collide (ie: Company A and Company B). History will tell you how it ends. Different businesses, always the same outcome. They simply can't sleep together as they both want to wear the pants. Solution . Each make there own pants ( or whatever the other partner was supplying ).... Humpf. Some Geeks simply can't read relationships too well.

    Not touching Samsung's own OS... Doubt it would even get off the mark really, there are no apps, and no one will develop for an OS with no market share. Where's Bada anyway? in the bin somewhere?

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