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5by5 | The Critical Path #76: Google vs. Android

Beginning with the data on activations, we traverse the strategic implications of a shift in Android governance and management. Along the way we also cover Samsung’s marketing strategy, budget, and the Galaxy S 4 launch.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #76: Google vs. Android.

  • Bruce_Mc

    Note that HTC has a tablet API for Android, in addition to the Samsung tablet API discussed on the podcast.

    http://www.htcdev.com/devcenter/tablet-pen

    HTC doesn’t seem to have many Android products that actually use a pen though.

    • Greg Lomow

      The idea of Samsung and HTC (and others) creating vendor specific APIs above and beyond what Google’s Android provides seems reminiscent of Microsoft’s “embrace and extend” strategy.

      In MS’ case it involved taking a standard like HTML (ie embrace the standard) and then adding proprietary extensions to lock developers and applications into the MS ecosystem.

      For Samsung and HTC it involves embracing Android and then adding proprietary extensions to lock developers and applications into the Samsung/HTC ecosystem.

      • http://twitter.com/FarshadNayeri Farshad Nayeri

        As Microsoft (and Netscape) learned with their failure to “lock” HTML, Samsung must be wary of creating an extension to a rapidly growing “standard”.

        (In disruptive technology terms, HTML (the incumbent) was still not “good enough”, as such the HTML incumbents (namely the HTML standards folks) were improving it with CSS, XHML, etc. Thus there was not a lot of room for HTML “developers” to pay attention to Microsoft. This could also explain why neither Active X or Java Applets took off, but Java on Server, and C# on the server did quite well.)

        A job to be done for a Platform is to satisfy the App developers. They consider where they spend their energies, and understand complexities of lock-in. Most importantly they are choosy about where they spend their energies. If the underlying platform (Android in this case) is still improving, they will likely put their energies into exploiting wide Android features, no matter how many new APIs Samsung develops or what differentiating hardware capabilities it creates.

      • obarthelemy

        Android is *designed* to allow that though, with very few rules: mainly “don’t break existing apps”, which is why Pen is OK, other markets (Samsung, TegraZone…) are OK, Samsung’s split-screen and windows multitasking *for their own apps* is OK, multiple user accounts was OK before Google baked it in 4.2… but windowing for all apps isn’t (apps don’t support resizing while running, nor weird window shapes), nor is taking way expected baseline hardware (gyroscope, GPS…).

        Looking at the geist of proprietary extensions and derivatives , I see:

        1- Amazon, who want to piggyback on the apps and OS, while maintaining a lock on apps and content sales. they use their own Store and disable the Playstore. No clue what they’re doing about the adds, they can go both ways.

        2- Samsung et al., who are trying to create lock-in by enticing users into their own proprietary content stores alongside the PlayStore. Fat chance, IMHO. Google still get to dispaly their ads and do their profiling.

        3- Android add-ons, usually a different UI, sometimes extra functionality. This is actually useful as it gives Google a hint of what sticks or not. They still get to show their ads, sell on the PlayStore, … The issue is if an old proprietary API locks out a new Google API. Hasn’t happened yet, though I’m curious about Pen which I think will not be a Samsung specialty forever.

    • obarthelemy

      It’d be interesting to know if those APIs are considered proprietary, or are given back to the main branch of Android by their creators. I’m guessing the second case, which would mean Samsung and HTC are happy with filling a void, and then benefiting from 1st-mover advantage. We’ll see soon enough if Samsung’s split-screen and windowed multitasking, and maybe even Pen API, pop up in Android’s main branch.

      • hmm

        Why would they?

      • obarthelemy

        read my post ?

      • hmm

        I did, but I don’t see any explanation of the advantage of doing that; perhaps I’m missing something. Seems to me that the first mover advantage exists whether they share their API/code or not.

      • NoName

        No. There has been a long thread over on G+ where one of the Android programmers told one of the firmware groups not to do it (display two or more active windows at the same time). They asked why Samsung was allowed to do it, and there was no response.

        The Pen API was incompatible with Android’s stylus API as well.

      • obarthelemy

        Yes.

        That thread is here:
        https://plus.google.com/100275307499530023476/posts/ViCME1bb8F6

        They clearly state they don’t want it because it breaks apps. Samsung was allowed to do it because, contrary to what CM wanted to do, they do it *only* for their own apps, and don’t break anything else.

        First lines from the first answer of a Google person in that thread: “Okay, let me please please beg you not to do this. I can guarantee you this introduces all kinds of application compatibility issues. We work really hard to give our developers a consistent environment where their apps will operate correctly across all the devices Market runs on”

        As for the Pen API, you’re right, Android now has that, I didn’t know it. I couldn’t find if it’s different from Samsung’s and HTC’s. It seems to be. I’m longer sure who apart from Samsung has active pen devices out (HTC used to, Lenovo used to, I think Motion Computing may still have one, and maybe Fujitsu). Presumably both APIs cohabit nicely ? I couldn’t confirm that though. Other solution would be for the Pen API to not be a core component of Android, so cutting it out would be allowed.

  • Ham Inacan

    I wonder what Google’s share of the Android market is? In other words, of the entire Android market, what share has the full Google experience? This question came to mind when I saw Benedict Evans’ headline: “Google’s Penetration of Android.” In his post, he neglects to mention that Amazon Kindle devices are considered “Android” by some analysts even though Google does not have a presence there.

  • Greg Lomow

    Horace mentioned one possibility regarding having one Google executive responsible for Chrome OS and Android – specifically that Chrome OS is the long term vision of Google and Android was just a tactical response to the mobile OS wars.

    It seems there are other possibilities.

    a) Android is merged into Chrome OS – that is, Android runs in Chrome OS on a Chromebook (as a separate process or on a VM) so that the user has the option of running Android apps on a Chromebook; this might make sense if Google wants to (a) quickly expand the Chrome OS ecosystem by providing a huge library of available apps, (b) move Android users away from Windows and OS X desktops and move them to Chromebooks (ie the Android halo effect) and (c) wants to address some of the Chrome OS shortcomings when there isn’t a network connection.

    b) Chrome OS is merged into Android – that is, Android users can runs Chrome OS on an Android device; this doesn’t seem likely since Android users already have access to Google services via native Android capabilities such as Chrome browser.

    c) Chrome and Android remain distinct but begin to share more features – similar to the current strategy for OS X and iOS

    Of all the possibilities, I’m betting on (a).

    • http://twitter.com/FarshadNayeri Farshad Nayeri

      Surely adding an Android simulator to Chrome does not require sacrificing an executive…I would think such a plan would in fact have the support of Andy Rubin?

      • obarthelemy

        After 10 yrs of Android, my best guess is that the guy wanted to do something else for a change ?

      • Bruce_Mc

        According to Wikipedia, Rubin spent 4 years at Danger, Inc. I believe he was working on an OS that was somewhat related to Android. The T-Mobile Sidekick was their best known product. Also a 3 year stint at General Magic, starting in 1992. As I recall, their Magic Cap OS had some similarities to what Danger was doing. A few Magic Cap devices were shipped.

        One could say it was closer to 20 years working on the same project than 10. On the other hand, if he was asked to step down he would be very dangerous working for a competitor. Google would be crazy to let him go free and clear.

      • obarthelemy

        Yep, he did the SideKick, which was quite innovative. Until they were taken over by MS ^^. He’s been with Android for 10yrs though.

  • http://twitter.com/jpantuso Joe Pantuso

    Isn’t the simplest and most likely explanation for Samsung marketing expense scaling linearly with sales that a vast proportion of it is spiffs/incentives/kickbacks? We’ve known for years that cash incentives to front line people for selling android phones was holding back sales of WinPhone, anecdotal evidence of hard selling happening even when someone comes into a store looking for an iPhone or Nokia handset. Spiffs work, and they are 1:1 matches with sales.

    • oases

      Yeah we had this spiffs discussion here in the past but people seem weirdly reluctant to conclude that Samsung just did a protection racket on the retail end. Someone mentions spiffs and it’s barely acknowledged, then someone mentions advertising and a big long conversation commences about how Samsung’s advertising is killing that of all other Android O.E.M.s. (or even Apple’s) because Samsung is the marketing daddy. Samsung is not the marketing daddy of phones, Samsung is the Silvio Berlusconi of phones. I mean…it’s legal, and it works—so far—but it requires no skill.

      Even Horace in his latest post only alludes indirectly to spiffs, as if its the retail practice that dare not speak its name. Can we all just agree now that the mystery has been solved? I’m not for a second diminishing the significance of the other factors Horace mentions like distribution and telegraphing-from-Apple; they’re part of it too. But they’re not enough without the spiffs.

      • http://twitter.com/asymco Horace Dediu

        Spiffs work but they have a downside. If and when spiffs end, the sales staff retaliate by counter-selling the product. It creates incentives and implicit disincentives. It’s a dangerous game to get involved with and usually has short term gain and long term pain. This sales practice is flawed which is why it’s not practiced universally and why I don’t believe it’s something Samsung depends upon. (They could be, I just find it hard to believe).

    • Bruce_Mc

      I worked at a computer chain store well over a decade ago. At that time I know that manufacturers would make payments to sales people at our store. Sometimes there would be payments to store management from manufacturers as well. It seemed like everything was negotiable, although mostly through incentives, rewards, spiffs, etc.

      It is not hard to believe that some of Samsung’s marketing budget goes into the pockets of employees of the carriers at various levels. You could call it a subsidy! :-) Or you could call it business as usual. Apple has their own stores, their brand name has more pull, so perhaps they choose not to play this game as much as Samsung.

      What is interesting about this to me is that it shows the power of the carriers. Phone platforms and manufacturers come and go, as Horace illustrates so well. However, the carriers seem to do OK no matter who they get their phones from. Success for a manufacturer means respecting the power of the carriers.

      There are people, both at Apple and at Samsung, who have the job of negociating deals with carriers. There is a lot of discussion about what makes a product succeed or fail, but I don’t read about these people very often. It seems like they are critically important. Horace does mention this from time to time, specifically on the podcasts.

      I’m sure these deal makers all have interesting stories to tell about their negociations. I doubt we will ever hear the stories though…

  • jbwales

    On the subject of the disparity in size of Apple’s marketing budget and that of Samsung: I believe that Samsung is essentially a sales centric organisation prepared to manufacture and sell anything customers are prepared to buy. It produces a myriad of products to cover all markets and assigns a set percentage of the selling price to agressively promote them. Apple, on the other hand, is much more selective about the products it produces and spends as much, or as little, as it considers necessary to market them effectively. It’s marketing is as much about the brand as it is about the product. It could obviously afford to spend considerably more on marketing but probably recognises that too much promotion can make you look desperate. There’s also the problem that Apple is largely supply constrained, so additional marketing creating additonal demand could not be fulfilled.

  • obarthelemy

    Regarding the whole “hack” spiel: hacks work because success often comes for unexpected reasons. Case #1: the iPhone, which was never planned to accept 3rd-party native apps. That had to be hacked afterwards, which still shows today in the very spartan homescreen. I’m not sure what the gist of that part is.

    FYI, Chrome vs Android is not about big screen vs small screen, but about centralized admin vs not centralized admin. Android is a “classic” standalone OS, a la Windows, MacOS, iOS… Chrome OS is a cloud OS, dependent on servers.

    Funny how you always try to cast Android news in the most negative way possible, and try to manufacture problems. Have you ever tried to invite a more impartial person ? Do you have that much Apple stock ? Have you tried to look at Apple with the same outlook ?

    I think the “advertising” part is mixing up “advertising” and “marketing”, thus mostly useless. Advertising is part of marketing, but by all means not all of it.

    Funny how non-Apple-lovers are “insincere” “reactionnaries”. I guess that’s the price to pay for not being “magical” :-p As for SG&A levels, you might be interested in learning that Samsung do a lot a money-back promos in many countries, and incentives for salespeople, which strongly explains why SG&A is linked to sales. It’s not about headcount, it’s about what the marketing spend is made up of. That’s why the difference between “advertising” and “marketing” is important, and why you’ve missed the mark here.

    About the “sinister” GS4, adding features to Android may also be seen as proof of vitality, and a nice way to experiment and add value… not just fragmentation ? Also, one of the few core rule of the Playstore is that apps cannot break other apps, so whatever OEMs do actually adds to the platform w/o taking anything away from it, and especially not fragmenting it. At this stage, the question has flipped to “which feature of Android will iOS copy next” ? Which does say something about comparative innovation on both platforms, and that happened because Android OEMs are free to experiment and add stuff.

    Regarding, the Pen input on the Samsung Notes, FYI, all apps can use Pen input since Samsung supply a Pen “keyboard replacement”. You’ve got APIs for more advanced uses (drawing…), but basic functionality is system-wide.A couple of Pen APIs are certainly no reason to launch a major dev event. What are you going on about ?

    As for alternative OSes, hint: it’s not about the OS, it’s about the ecosystem, Apps and content store in particular. As for not speculating on the death of Android and then doing it, that was outright funny. Yep, Android is much weaker than iOS and WinPhone. Only 70% share….

    As for Google’s philosophy, it’s about displaying ads and selling profiles. Android allows them to do that, iOS and WinPhone don’t. You can stop wondering now.

    I’m looking forward to a podcast in the same vein about Apple :-p

    • Kizedek

      I fear I mustn’t disappoint ;), so here goes:

      “As for Google’s philosophy, it’s about displaying ads and selling profiles.” Interesting that you admit this and *still* show all kinds of confidence in and favor toward Google and Android.

      “…the iPhone, which was never planned to accept 3rd-party native apps.” Quite a bold statement without proof, non? Never say “never” :). Interesting that hundreds of polished, in-house SDKs were in developers’ hands Feb. 2008 and that when the iPhone 3G launched in July ’09, there were thousands of killer apps on the App Store, in 62 countries. Several large developers were showcased prior, testifying to the mere weeks their surprisingly polished work took, rather than the usual months or years they expected. (http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9964401-7.html).

      So, less “hacked afterwards” than just opening the gate at a certain time. Interesting that MS has begged, threatened and bribed developers to get into RT and it still has no killer apps, although this has been “planned” for years, and the Surface trumpeted months in advance!

      Great that you see the Android glass half-full: its vitality and resilience and all that. One wonders, though, whether you really are seeing the whole picture. This site is very much about trying to peer into the hazy future of disruptions and new markets and technologies and possible roadmaps. And Apple, pretty uniquely, is pretty closed-mouth about this, though they very evidently plan years in advance.

      Though “Android” (in name) is young, Google is basically playing the part of the “incumbent” in the mobile industry. There are now signs they are tiring and/or trying to turn the ship around. Maybe social should be their next thing or focus (but they have been trying social and still get frustrated by Fb); maybe they should carry on with centralized computing; maybe they should refocus on their core-business… it just doesn’t look like they really know. (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/jw_on_tech/archive/2012/03/13/why-i-left-google.aspx)

      So, one wonders if Android doesn’t represent the cusp and cutting edge of mobile phone OS’s, while iOS is quietly setting up pocket computing. One wonders if the foundation of Android is something that the future can be built on. This is really at the heart of the comparisons we make between Android and iOS, which you so disdain.

      While you are focused on the exciting action in the Grand Prix, with Android going gangbusters on the back straight, we might do well to look up and consider which lap each team is currently on, and that Apple has already changed its tyres (IOW “context” as you have rightly stressed before — but going a bit beyond whose bumper appears to be inching in front of whose). Or, maybe Apple has decided that Monaco is OK, but it’s going to shoot off at the next bend and do the Paris-Dakar instead. Apple: predictably unpredictable ;) Ya gotta luv ‘em.

    • Mark Jones

      “Case #1: the iPhone, which was never planned to accept 3rd-party native apps. That had to be hacked afterwards,”

      That’s a convenient myth propagated by the “open” and “hacker” crowds. In May 2007 at the D5 conference, Jobs spent a few moments talking to Walt Mossberg about Apple’s work on the sandboxing and security needed to allow 3rd party native apps. This was even before the first iPhone could be bought. Apple knew what they wanted to build a platform; it just took time to lay down a secure foundation (since it wasn’t coming from the Mac OS).

    • Simon

      “Case #1: the iPhone, which was never planned to accept 3rd-party native apps. That had to be hacked afterwards”

      Are you seriously saying this? iOS was “hacked” to allow APIs for 3rd parties in Objective C afterward?

      • obarthelemy
      • http://twitter.com/asymco Horace Dediu

        Third party apps were written for the product before third party apps were allowed on the product. What does that imply about the design of the product? Apple’s own apps which shipped with the product as well as all the jailbroken apps were built with non-public APIs for app development. Making those APIs available to third parties was not an engineering or design decision but one of marketing. Therefore ‘hacking’ may not be the appropriate term.

      • obarthelemy

        I don’t think the APIs were hacked much, they were very clean to start with anyway. Maybe some security stuff (the UDID thing…)

        What was hacked was the AppStore itself, which to this days has governance and billing issues (free trials, upgrades, DLC…); and iTunes, which under the multiple responsibilities of having to be a media player, media server, sync control point, update engine and shopping front-end (I’m surely forgetting a few :-p), is more than creaking at the seams.

      • issues

        “What was hacked was the AppStore itself, which to this days has governance and billing issues (free trials, upgrades, DLC…)”

        Care to elaborate? Not sure about these issues.

      • interesting

        Didn’t take you to be someone that always believes everything that Apple says publicly.

      • obarthelemy

        I don’t, but I think it’s true in this case: Apple intended their APIs to be used by themselves and a few select AAA 3rd parties, not to be freely available to any developer with a Mac and $100 to spare.

      • interesting

        You seem to have already weakened your point from “no third parties” to “select third parties” in this comment so let’s see where this slope ends.

    • Johnnny

      “Case #1: the iPhone, which was never planned to accept 3rd-party native apps.”

      Do you really believe that? IIRC the project started as an iPad in 2003 and switched to a phone platform in 2005. Do you think they weren’t planning on third party apps, even since the Newton in the 1990s ?

      Didn’t Steve Jobs diss video on iPods a year or two before introducing the feature.

      Same on the iPhone, why show your cards before your company or the current tech can do it well. Why give your strategic roadmap publicly to competitors?

      How much vaporware has Apple produced in the last decad compared to the rest of the tech industry?

      Mr. OB, this is a business minded blog, with many people with experience and education posting great ideas.

      You had some good contributions in the past, but in the past week of your posts have become equivalent to a 16 year old posting on Engadget.

  • Bruce_Mc

    I can imagine that the job Google hired Android to do was destroy Microsoft’s phone OS. Android did that job very well. I believe that in the last 10 years, Social has become more important to Google than Mobile. Whatever Google ends up doing with Android and ChromeOS should probably be looked at as a response to Facebook.

    • obarthelemy

      Google just want an opportunity to display ads and fill up their databases. The problem is that since they make so much money at it, others want in.

      There could be some sort of status quo, except with Facebook maybe, at least with Apple and MS, if both were OK with leaving the ads to Google. It’s a bit late for that now though ^^

  • Guest

    Yeah we had this spiffs discussion here in the past but people seem weirdly reluctant to conclude that Samsung just did a protection racket on the retail end. Someone mentions spiffs and it’s barely acknowledged, then someone mentions advertising and a big long conversation commences about how Samsung’s advertising is killing that of all other Android O.E.M.s. because Samsung is the marketing daddy. Samsung is not the marketing daddy of phones, Samsung is the Silvio Berlusconi of phones. I mean…it’s legal, and it works—so far—but it requires no brains.

    Even Horace in his latest post only alludes indirectly to spiffs, as if its the retail practice that dare not speak its name. Can we all just agree now that the mystery has been solved? I’m not for a second diminishing the significance of the other factors Horace mentions like distribution and telegraphing-from-Apple; they’re part of it too. But they’re not enough without the spiffs.

    • obarthelemy

      Indeed. I’ve been a salesman for a long time, we’ve always had spiffs, and they work (if only because aside of $$$, they had a little fun to the game :-p).

      I think it’s a smart choice for Samsung: instead of having to slowly, expensively and painstakingly build their own shops a la Apple, they get to leverage their partners’ existing retail force, and for a variable cost.

      The Apple way has the advantage of better control of the experience and message, and of an opportunity for better service.