A meteoric rise, and un-matched brand recognition in the Android mobile sector, is Samsung the reason for Google Android’s success on the high street and which one of them has more to lose?
Credit: Nan Palermo
Let’s look at the figures. By the end of 2012, Android sales had accounted for 70 percent of the global mobile market share. In the first quarter of 2009, Gartner’s figures show that Android market share stood at just 1.6 percent and the prediction was that this would grow to 14.5 percent by the end of 2012. The one thing they got right was that by 2012 Android would overtake the iPhone in worldwide sales, but by how much, nobody could have guessed.
Of course there are a number of reasons for Android’s popularity as a mobile OS. The sheer variety of handsets available at all price points, the different manufacturers involved, and not least of all Google’s fine refining of its OS in an attempt to appeal to the ordinary user. But one particular reason stood out for me, and that was ‘Samsung’.
I came across an interesting article by Benedict Evans in which he shares the results of a Google Trends search for the terms iPhone, Galaxy, Android, Samsung, and Samsung Galaxy.
What’s interesting is how the terms ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Samsung galaxy’ have jumped in consumer awareness since 2010 onwards, with ‘Galaxy’ beginning to catch up with ‘Android’ in late 2012. This creates a question. What is Android and the whole ‘Android Experience’ in general consumer awareness? Is it to do with Google or Samsung? Because another thing to notice on the Google Trends graph is how the term ‘Android’ began to surge around the same time as the terms ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Samsung Galaxy’.
You can see the full trends result through this embedded link:
Google web search figures are probably not the most reliable method of tracking brand performance, so let’s take a look at some sales figures. In the first quarter of 2010, only three percent of Samsung’s phone sales were from smartphones. This had risen to 54 percent by the third quarter of 2012. In fact, Samsung’s profits in 2012 from mobile sales was not only more than what Nokia (a market leader of 14 years) ever made, but also more than Google’s income from all its operations.
And what about advertising? It’s their focused advertising campaign that’s helped push Samsung to the top of the mobile tech world. Another chart from Asymco shows that Samsung’s 2012 advertising budget of $4 Billion exceeded even that of Coca-Cola, a company whose primary cost of sales is advertising. But that figure seems small compared to Samsung’s overall marketing expense of $12 Billion, and most of this effort was focused on their mobile devices.
That explains Samsung’s huge and still growing brand awareness. There are likely many people who are unaware that the smart phone in their hand runs on an OS called Android rather than Touchwiz. As Benedict Evans points out, Samsung may do all this marketing, but they barely if ever mention ‘Android’ anywhere in there.
It does make sense though. Samsung is a hardware manufacturer and their profits come from the physical sale of their phones. Once the handset is sold however, it’s Google’s game. Google continues to reap profit from nearly every Android phone out there through apps, advertisements, and mobile web search traffic. So would Google mind Samsung’s huge growth and heavy investment in it’s own brand identity? Probably not. After all, Android (and through it Google’s profits) have been able to piggyback on Samsung’s efforts. But my guess is that Samsung would mind more about this ongoing close relationship with Google.
Every one of Samsung’s successful Galaxy range of Android phones is an unbreakable partnership between it and Google. Samsung doesn’t have much control over the underlying software or the app store. And all the interesting user data that companies love to collect remains with Google. It’s not surprising then to hear that the world’s largest smart phone vendor is investing in an independent OS of its own. No, I’m not talking about Bada OS. Tizen is the new kid on the block here.
Tizen is a joint project between Samsung and Intel. It’s a Linux-based operating system that Samsung claims is more open and customizable than Android. There have also been reports that Samsung is merging it’s older Bada OS into Tizen. Will Tizen be as ‘open’ as Samsung claims it to be? We’ll have to wait and see. But with Tizen phones rumoured for launch before the end of this year, we won’t have that long to wait.
Samsung executives have already said that using another company’s software in their phones is costing them money. But will Tizen be the answer they’re looking for? Would it be possible for Samsung to leave Android and strike out, surviving on brand recognition alone? I don’t think so. Amazon is one company that managed to take Android and create a closed ecosystem of its own from it. But Amazon had media ready to sell: movies, music, books, and a growing app store. Samsung’s Tizen doesn’t have this ready established media store. I’m of the opinion that Tizen would have less chance than Windows Phone 8 or Blackberry 10 in the Mobile OS wars unless Samsung can entice developers to get on board quickly.
So Samsung won’t make a clean break from the Android fold just yet, but they will be looking to, and soon. And what of Google? How will Samsung’s eventual bit by bit departure from Android, and even growing competition against it, affect them? Google have the Motorola brand under their wing, and we keep hearing about the upcoming Google X phone. But unless Google’s Motorola phones achieve the same level of high-street brand awareness that Samsung phones have, we may end up seeing a dip in Android’s fortunes without the powerful Samsung name behind it. Competition will then come down to price. But Samsung have shown they can play that game too, producing a bevy of smartphones to cover all sizes and prices. A bit more time, and Tizen may become much more than just the third OS in the mobile sector.
What do you think? Can Samsung take on Android in the mobile wars?