By putting its own media content store next to Google Play on its new Galaxy S4 smartphones, Samsung is essentially turning all of its users into beta testers that could determine the future of the Android operating system.
Think about it. Apple has iTunes. Android has Google Play. Amazon has its own Video On Demand with music and books. BlackBerry as its App World and Microsoft has its Windows Phone Marketplace. What do all of these companies have in common? To a certain extent, they all make their own operating systems, have application stores and sell content such as books, movies, music and television shows through their own proprietary channels.
Where, exactly, does Samsung fit into this equation?
With the release of the new Galaxy S4 flagship, Samsung has taken all of its media “hubs” and consolidated it all into one Samsung Hub that sells books, movies, television shows, games, apps and music. Samsung Hub comes preloaded on all new Galaxy devices and is pushed front and center with a widget on a home screen panel on its devices.
Samsung is a little bit of a misnomer in this equation. It is not like Apple, which makes its own operating system. It uses Google's Android. By juxtaposing its Media Hub next to Google Play, Samsung is basically asking users to make a choice. Where will you get your content? From us or from Google?
What is Samsung's goal here? Is it preparing to fork Google's Android operating system and go it alone? With Media Hub, Samsung may be turning users into millions of "beta testers." If people end up using Media Hub for their content and apps instead of Google Play, Samsung may see reason to fork Android and go it alone. If not, Samsung can try to create its own hub of content that runs across all of its devices, just as Sony tried (and failed at) a couple years ago.
This… is a little awkward.
Tense Relations Between Samsung & Google?
Much was made earlier this year about how Samsung has grown so dominant in the Android ecosystem that it has become a threat to Google. In certain ways this is true, in many ways it is not. The hinge of the argument is that Samsung could fairly easily strip out all of Google’s services from Galaxy devices and serve similar services up itself. So, no more Gmail, Chrome, Google Play and so forth.
Google executives have reportedly acknowledged that Samsung, while being its biggest Android ally, is also a cause of anxiety. It would not take much for Samsung to fork the open source kernel of Android and go it alone. Google would then lose out of the all-important user data and profiles that are the core of its advertising business strategy through mobile.
Samsung already makes many of its own alternatives to Google’s offerings through its TouchWiz interface. Samsung has its own email app and browser. Galaxy smartphones come loaded with dual apps for almost every core function – one from Samsung and one from Google. Usually, the Samsung ones are inferior.
And now there is Hub.
Hub Next To Google Play
Why do these mobile operating system makers put content in their app stores? Really, the profit margins are not great as companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have to license the content from the creators (movie studios, record labels etc.) and barely eke any money out of it for themselves.
But what content does do is sell devices. The best thing that Apple ever did with the iPhone was create the App Store and open up iTunes so music and movies could be downloaded to people’s smartphones. You could argue that the App Store/iTunes has been responsible for selling more Apple devices than any other force combined.
This fact is not lost on Samsung.
Yet, Samsung is a little bit different from Apple. Its product portfolio is broader, especially when you factor in that it makes televisions (which are some of the best available). Samsung is not just looking to sell smartphones, it wants users to go down the full profile and own a Samsung tablet, computer and TV.
That, Samsung’s director of product marketing Ryan Biden tells me, is the biggest push for Samsung Hub.
“Hub is really intended for people that own multiple Samsung devices,” Biden said. “It now allows us to deliver content to other devices from Samsung.”
That is why Samsung has baked in “screen-mirroring” into its recent Galaxy devices. Through Wi-Fi Direct, you can broadcast what is on your phone to your Samsung TV or vice versa. Apple can do this in a limited fashion with its Apple TV box and AirPlay but that then creates three devices – TV, smartphone, box – Samsung can do it with two. The kicker? It has to be two Samsung devices.
Biden downplays the fact that, just by its very existence, Samsung Hub battles Google Play. In Samsung’s mind, they are for two very different use cases for a media store.
That may not exactly be the case though. Google’s Android runs on smartphones and tablets and it has Google TV, where Android has been fitted for the big screen. Samsung has even made some of its Smart TVs with Google TV integration. So, the differences that Biden cites may not be as far apart as Samsung likes to think.