Report: Google Wants More Control of Samsung’s Handsets

Posted on July 29, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Google, Mobile, Android with 36 Comments

A blockbuster report in Bloomberg claims that Google is negotiating with Samsung to obtain more control over the Samsung handset experience.

Google apparently would like for its own app store, Google Play Store, and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant, to take precedent over Samsung’s own entries, Bixby and Galaxy Store. The move would put Google’s offerings front and center on the 300 million handsets that Samsung sells each year—it is the world’s biggest seller of smartphones—and would be a major capitulation for Samsung, which has been pushing its Google alternatives for years.

The question, of course, is why.

And while Bloomberg doesn’t offer any theories about that, I have two ideas.

The first concerns Apple. Today, the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are going to face a US Congressional antitrust hearing and try and explain away their regular abuses of market power. One of the problems facing Google/Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai is that Google is actively trying to preserve its dominance of Internet search by paying Apple an incredible $7 billion or more per year to be the default search engines on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. That traffic is worth about $25 billion per year.

Obviously, paying the owner of a rival platform looks bad. But if Google could convince its biggest partner and the market leader, Samsung, to ensure the top spot on its own platform, Google wouldn’t need Apple. Nor would it need to explain away that massive payment.

The second theory is related to the first: What if Google would like to use Samsung to promote Android and its own services? That is, what if Google is prepping to kill off the Pixel hardware family and line up with Samsung instead?

This makes a lot of sense to me: Pixel is a failure and it has never generated profits or market share of any kind. If Google can convince the world’s best-selling smartphone maker to adopt its products and services instead of its own, it wouldn’t need Pixel anymore.

Neither Google nor Samsung has any comment about the story.

“Like all Android device makers, Samsung is free to create its own app store and digital assistant,” a Google statement explains. “That’s one of the great features of the Android platform. And while we regularly talk with partners about ways to improve the user experience, we have no plans to change that.”

“Samsung remains committed to our own ecosystem and services,” a Samsung statement reads. “At the same time, Samsung closely works with Google and other partners to offer the best mobile experiences for our users.”

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Comments (36)

36 responses to “Report: Google Wants More Control of Samsung’s Handsets”

  1. Pierre Masse

    Maybe it could open the door for a couple of Microsoft's flavored devices. Or at least a few that can be bought by others than the one per cent.

  2. BigM72

    I don't think a Samsung partnership would cause Google to stop paying Apple for presence on its platforms. Why leave money on the table when it can afford to do both.

    Second, most Samsung sales are of its midrange phones (A series and J series) not the Galaxy S/Note series. As such, Apple users are in demand from an advertising perspective (much more likely to spend big than average Samsung user) and the internet knows it.

  3. MikeCerm

    "Obviously, paying the owner of a rival platform looks bad." How is it bad for Google? The fact that Google has to pay Apple is actually a good sign (for Google) that there's enough competition in the search game that it makes sense to pay Apple rather than let those users get pushed to someone else. It's bad for Apple, who appears to be abusing their control of iOS to extort Google. I mean, if there were a choice of which search engine to use the first time you open Safari, 95% would probably willingly choose Google any other candidates. It's also bad that the only options that Apple offers are Google and Bing, who pay for the privilege, and all other competitors of locked out completely.

    With Google on its way to meet with antitrust investigators, it certainly makes no sense for them to try to abuse their control of Android to force Samsung to push Google's app store and digital assistant at the expense of Samsung's own "competitive" offerings. So, to suggest that Google is doing this because Google is afraid of what antitrust regulators might say about Google's relationship with Apple is really not a logical thought at all.

  4. M. S. Chan

    As much as Paul thinks Pixel is a failure from a market share perspective, yet he doesn't think Surface is a failure. Seems double standard to me.

    • Paul Thurrott

      LOL. Do I describe Surface as a success? I shouldn't. It's never made a profit. Surface has inspired other PC makers to copy the Pro design. That's about all it's accomplished. Well, that and pushing literally every single PC maker to release Chromebooks just in case.
      • M. S. Chan

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Surface is a success to the point that you did not ask Microsoft to shut it down. Pixel is very much the analogy for Surface - it inspired others as to what a good Android phone should be: free of useless apps, great software experience, taking great photos, and timely Android updates. A Pixel phone showcases what an Android phone should be, just like a Surface should inspire what a Windows PC should be.

  5. @jeetu1

    Obviously, paying the owner of a rival platform looks bad.

  6. lilmoe

    The third, more probable reason is Microsoft.

    Microsoft has been working closely with Samsung lately, bundling a bunch of their services in Galaxy S/Notes. My S20 had Office and Link-to-Windows first and foremost, in addition to LinkedIn. The upcoming Note series is rumored to be a showcase for xCloud. I wouldn't be surprised if there were in talk to replace Bixby's back-end with Bing.

    Whatsapp, for example, has been on the Play Store for years with no interest from Google, until Facebook made a bid.

    • Paul Thurrott

      I have a hard time seeing Microsoft as the inspiration for anything Samsung and Google do on mobile.
  7. Awhispersecho

    All the additional Samsung Software and services is one of the reasons I left Samsung. If they are eliminated, it would be much easier for me to go back to them if I ever needed to. After the punch hole goes away that is.

  8. jblank46

    I like this idea a lot, but I’ll never buy a Samsung handset unless they learn how to update those things on some kind of regular basis. They’ve been a joke in that department and when you add in all the bloatware duplicative nonsense, no thanks.. I’m firmly in team pixel, oneplus or surface duo for my next phone if that ever materialises.

    • wright_is

      In reply to jblank46:

      We have an S10 and an S20+, each gets the monthly Google security updates in the first 5 days of the month where Google releases them (Google officially releases patch details on the 1st, the phones have offered the updates automatically within the first 5 days of the month, or I've searched for them - manually kick off the update search in Setting - on the 2nd or 3rd days and have received them).

      • nine54

        In reply to wright_is:

        I think the OP is referring to Android letter and dot releases, not just security updates. It can be months, if ever, for Samsung and other OEMs to deploy new Android versions to phones.

  9. bart

    How in the world is this not going to trigger anti-trust concerns in the EU and US? The one thing Google has going for controlling 80% of the world wide smartphone market, is the differentiation by Samsung. If Samsung now falls in line with Google, shit will hit the fan. Mark my words.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Bart:

      Exactly what I thought. You are up in front of the anti-trust commissions around the world... Yes, that is exactly the time to make a huge anti-trust move!

  10. Pbike908

    I have a Galaxy S8. It of course is stuck on Android 9 because Samsung won't provide more than 2 years of Android updates. I am in the market for a new phone. I would have pulled the trigger on a Galaxy S10e if had more of a pure Google experience. The only Samsung app I use is Samsung's browser. I have NO interest in Bixby. And I really don't want to purchase a S10e with only 1 more guaranteed update.

    As far as my S8 goes, it now stutters when running only basic apps including Samsung's web browser. Not sure why it stutters. Perhaps if Samsung used more of a pure Android experience INCLUDING updating the S8 to Android 10 this wouldn't happen.

    If I had to buy a new phone today, it would probably be an Iphone 11. I am probably going to wait and see what the Pixel 4a has to offer and the Iphone 12 before I upgrade.

    • winner

      In reply to Pbike908:

      After having the Nexus 5x, I tried the S8 and hated it. Returned it and have been happily using the much maligned Pixel 2XL for three years. Still getting monthly security updates, and running the latest Android.

      Samsungs are nice HW but the camera was inferior, the buttons aren't in a good place, Bixby is a mess, and duplicate Samsung Apps all over the place, uninstallable.

  11. martinusv2

    Or Google seeing the Microsoft partnership, dangerous to them?

  12. brothernod

    Are pixel margins bad? On one hand we here a Microsoft exec saying who cares how many phones you sell as long as you make a profit, but here you're suggesting Google abandon their small phone market.

  13. dcdevito

    This should have happened a decade ago

  14. Chris_Kez

    Paul, I think you're theories about ensuring Google Assistant and the Play Store are front and center make sense. I'm less sure about the search piece because I thought Google was already the default search engine on Samsung phones.

  15. hellcatm

    One of the reasons to buy Pixel though is the pure Android experience that gets updated regularly and with that gets the newest version of Android when it comes out. If they're not looking to change Samsung's user experience and if they are trying to get rid of the Pixel phones, then that means there would be no phones on the market that get the real Samsung experience. This is unless Google also wants Samsung to make Pixel style phones? This is the only way I'd buy Samsung. If Google got rid of Pixel and there weren't any phones that didn't have the pure Android experience that got the new versions of Android when they came out, then I'd just move to 1Plus, LG, Motorola or some other brand. Samsung while it has nice hardware is the manufacturer who in my opinion messes up Android the most by putting a ton of apps on that you can't uninstall, has the worse interface (even thought I hear it's gotten better), and slows down the most over time. Who's going to pick up the pure Android experience? Or if Google gets rid of Pixel will we never have a phone that has it? Or maybe Google will just make mid and lower range Pixel phones and drop the high end? Which would be ok with me.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Pixel doesn't offer a pure Android experience anymore. It's a tailored Pixel experience with unique features that are not in stock Android.
    • omen_20

      In reply to HellcatM:

      It's possible Google might make an Android One deal with Samsung. I think a smart place to start would be the A series of mid-range phones. Android One does well on Nokia's lineup. My 7.1 from 2018 gets security updates every month (just installed one last night), and OS updates are only a month behind Pixel.

      With Marc Levoy leaving Pixel for Adobe, the writing is on the wall. Pixel will bleed its one advantage over time.

      Google would be smart to team up with Samsung and Adobe. Make sure Samsung has what ever chip is needed, and help Adobe to make the best computational photography on the platform.

  16. solomonrex

    While Samsung's services are a no-go outside Korea, I'm sure many people have at least tried MS services on their Android through work, if nothing else. And with the Windows 10 connector, there is plenty of synergy there that Apple offers and Google can't. So I see this as shoring up a hole.

    Unfortunately, the fact that the maker of Android has to negotiate with the biggest vendor of Android shows you how bad the relationship is. Google often seems to care about IOS more and has bungled multiple areas of Android, including one that is very important to Samsung, tablets. While it's not all Google's fault (Quallcomm), Google is large enough and smart enough to fix these issues years ago, but just didn't care.

    Hopefully this is the beginning of a real partnership so that Android can rival Apple in a meaningful way again. And hopefully they have a plan to defeat Quallcomm so that we can have real device support such as with Windows, IOS and PCs.

    • darkgrayknight

      In reply to solomonrex:

      Samsung services are the default on my Note 9 for sure here in the USA. Google services are still there and not difficult to use or set back as the default. Samsung has its own Contacts app and various other apps that are installed by default and also are set as the default apps.

  17. SvenJ

    Interesting. If Google drops Pixel for more forward placement on Samsung, or somewhere else, would they still have a reason for Fi? I don't know, but I imagine a lot of Fi users, use it on Pixels. I and the wife are really iPhone users, but we each have a Pixel which originally was a hedge against some spotty AT&T coverage where we live. T-Mobile/Sprint hit some of those spots. Found there were more such areas as we travelled around, so Fi was worthwhile. Some of those holes have disappeared, but now we have gotten used to Fi Data SIMS in a few items, iPads, Surface Go. These cost zero dollars to have. Cost data when you need to use them, which is infrequent. Each data SIM on AT&T costs $15/mo (tax title, fees) whether you use it or not. With Fi it could be $20/month and pay for some data, whereas AT&T would be $45 to start with 3 devices. If Pixels go, but Fi stays, I'd consider an iPhone SE just to maintain the Fi account and have the data SIMS. I'd have no reason to buy any other Android phone.

  18. solomonrex

    Oh, and I forgot that for Samsung, this comes after MS shut its stores down, a minor outlet for selling Samsung devices I'm sure, but perhaps it canceled a larger cooperation contract around apps and retail.

  19. Chris_Kez

    Samsung is ~40% of Android, I think, so them having their own store and assistant at least provides the illusion of a competitive, open Android. I wonder if this kind of collaboration could further reinforce perceptions among EU regulators that Google is exerting too much control over Android.

  20. wolters

    That is, what if Google is prepping to kill off the Pixel hardware family and line up with Samsung instead?

    That is the first thing that came to my mind. As much as I love the Pixel Camera and experience, Samsung's One UI isn't bad and the cameras are good enough and close to being on par with Pixel. I just wish the duplicate apps and Bixby didn't get in the way. I'd love to have Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch.

    With the delay of the Pixel 4a and no word of a Pixel 5XL as of yet, I am a little worried about the Pixel line of phones.

    • Calibr21

      In reply to wolters:

      The man responsible for computational photography and the magic behind the Pixel camera left Google within the last year and is now over at Adobe. When the brains behind the 1 killer feature the Pixel had leaves, its not a good sign for phone lineup.

  21. Rob_Wade

    First, why would someone WANT a Google experience? To this day, I don't get it. And even though I can admit Samsung makes superficial improvements to the user experience, it's impossible to get anything other than a mediocre user experience at best. Why? Specifically BECAUSE OF GOOGLE'S CONTROL AND INEPTITUDE TO ACCOMPLISH KEY FEATURES. At Samsung has tried to work around some of that ineptitude (with only minimal success). For a while, even Microsoft tried to do the same. Face it, Google creates garbage, but they've convinced far too many of you that the feces smells like perfume. And buy it. The BEST option would be for Google to completely give up control and allow OEMs to truly do what they want with the system.