Why Samsung needs to move beyond Android -- and Google

Samsung depends on Google's Android OS, but needs to find a way to differentiate itself from rivals who also use Android if it's to grow and thrive.

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Samsung's relationship with Google continues to be baffling. The two companies continually tussle quietly over Android, with Samsung experimenting with the Tizen OS in its new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches while using Android as the base OS for its smartphone and tablet portfolio globally. (And it consistently modifies each generation of the Android OS with various Samsung customizations.)

It's hard to know whether the two companies quietly hate each other while remaining diplomatic in public as they wrestle over a variety of mobile initiatives in the spirit of "competing while cooperating."

Some economists call that "co-opetition." However you define it, this is a relationship that needs to undergo big changes in the next two years as Samsung tries to find ways to stay profitable beyond producing multiple new versions of its smartphones and tablets.

Just last week, Samsung announced a new Samsung Galaxy Apps store with hundreds of apps that are separate from the Google Play store, which boasts well over a million.

At Google I/O last month, Google executive Sundar Pichai announced that the next version of Android, dubbed 'L,' will have a range of enterprise-focused security and management features, including a separation of work and personal data on devices. Samsung had been focusing heavily on making its own Android devices secure for enterprises with its Samsung Knox software for the last two years.

"We really want to thank Samsung for [carrying over] Knox to all of Android," Pichai said in a keynote address. "There will be one consistent experience."

Notably, Pichai didn't even mention Google's purchase in May of Divide, which makes enterprise software focused on helping companies deal with bring-your-own-device issues.

Divide was also not mentioned in a statement Samsung issued during I/O that said "part" of its Knox technology will be included in Android L (without a delineation of which part that might be).

At the time, Samsung's Injong Rhee, senior vice president of Knox, described the cooperation with Google over the technology as a "groundbreaking partnership with Google."

Pure Android and Samsung's Android

It's worth noting that whatever differences there might be behind the scenes, Android currently keeps Samsung and Google linked at the hips. Both companies heavily depend on the OS, which runs in 80% of all smartphones shipped. Samsung is by far the largest purveyor of smartphones and tablets running Android, which Google provides to Samsung and other vendors as an open source OS.

Even so, Samsung customizes its smartphones and tablets with a variety of user experiences and interfaces and its own software and apps. One example is the recent S Health app (the 'S' for Samsung) for tracking personal fitness that can be loaded on the Galaxy S 5 smartphone to connect via Bluetooth to the Gear 2 smartwatch. While the Gear 2 and its cousin, the Gear 2 Neo, both run on the Tizen OS, so does the Samsung Z smartphone, as will a TV that's expected in 2015.

In addition to the new Samsung Galaxy Apps store, there will also be a separate online Tizen Store for apps for Tizen devices from various manufacturers. Samsung collaborated with the Tizen Association in creating that store.

Meanwhile, Google separately keeps promoting new "pure Android" products like the Nexus line of smartphones made by various manufacturers, including the Nexus 5 built by LG, which went on sale last year for $349 unlocked. A big feature of such devices is that they get OS updates directly from Google, without having to wait for a manufacturer or carrier.

Google also has offered up a detailed approach to helping developers keep that pure Android look on their many apps.

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