In early January, while the rest of the consumer technology world at CES marveled at the sheer size of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy tablet, Google execs were dismayed by what they saw on the screen of the massive 12.1-inch slate — a fancy new user interface called Magazine UX.

As Re/code’s Bonnie Cha wrote at the time: “The Magazine UX looks like a mix of Flipboard and Microsoft’s Metro user interface with its dynamic dashboard and app shortcuts.” In other words, the interface was a dramatic departure from Google’s vision for Android.

Multiple sources familiar with the companies’ thinking say the two technology giants began hammering out a series of broad agreements at CES that would bring Samsung’s view of Android in line with Google’s own. The results of the talks, which have only just begun dribbling out to the public, also underscore the extent to which Google is exerting more of its influence to control its destiny in the Android open source world.

An agreement with Samsung comes as Google is facing a rise in Android devices that don’t use its services, especially in China. A new report from ABI research finds 25 percent of Android devices shipped in the fourth quarter did not have Google’s suite of services installed.

Google and Samsung representatives declined to comment on the discussions. Samsung added, “To continue our momentum of delivering great user experiences and bringing greater value to people’s lives, Samsung will continue to identify and provide differentiated and innovative service and content offerings on our mobile devices.”

This week, Samsung and Google announced a wide-ranging deal to cross-license patents that cover mobile devices and other undisclosed categories. But there’s more.

Although the exact details of those meetings could not yet be learned, sources familiar with the discussions say not only will Samsung consider dumping or altering the Magazine UX interface in future devices, but, more importantly, new Samsung devices will spotlight Google’s suite of apps to get movies, music and other content at the expense of its in-house-developed software, which was once a proud showcase of Samsung’s evolution as a mobile industry leader.

It’s unclear what concessions Google may have made on its part. The company could have, for example, agreed to work with Samsung on a Nexus device or offered other cooperation.

The relationship between Google and Samsung has gone through “a huge change, a sea change in the last few weeks,” as one source described it.

Sea Change

Samsung is by far the largest Android device maker and controlled 32 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter of 2013, according to Gartner. Some 82 percent of the smartphone market operated on Android software. Samsung has maintained a delicate codependency with Google. Many in the industry have been studying the tea leaves for signs that the two are heading in opposite directions, especially after Google’s purchase of Motorola, a rival handset maker.

Putting more emphasis on preloaded Google Play apps is clearly a concession for Samsung, which had been beefing up its media services efforts through its Samsung Media Solution Center group. Over the past two years, that group built out movie and TV offerings and acquired mobile music service mSpot.

Samsung’s WatchON software is a mirroring and remote control app that ties into existing content services like Netflix and works best for people who have multiple Samsung devices, including a TV. Another app in the Samsung bunch is ChatON. It’s a cross-platform messaging app that can work on non-Samsung Android devices as well as iPhones. Sources were unsure if ChatON would be included in the apps getting the ax.

But Samsung’s apps were largely forgettable in the wider Android community and moving to Google Play apps is not seen as a major loss.

In his Galaxy S4 review, Re/code’s Walt Mossberg wrote, “I found Samsung’s software often gimmicky, duplicative of standard Android apps, or, in some cases, only intermittently functional.”

GoogleFlex

As the biggest Android app maker, Google has significantly stepped up its effort to get device makers to adopt its suite of services, separate from and in addition to the core Android operating system.

In recent months, an increasing amount of the innovation in the Android ecosystem coming from Google has landed not in the open-source operating system but in Google’s proprietary Google Play services and its suite of apps. While seeing the benefits of keeping Android open source, this allows Google to ensure that some of its work is only used on devices that use its services as opposed to, say, the Kindle Fire, which uses the Android operating system but taps Amazon’s services.

The Google Play apps are also made available to device makers, but under tighter conditions. Google no longer allows handset makers to pick and choose just one app to include on their phones, but wants them to include the whole shebang.

As one mobile executive who competes with Google’s Android apps put it, “Google is really following the Apple playbook. It may be open source underneath, but not on top.”

The fact that Apple wields such tight control over its own software-and-hardware combo seems to be the only thing separating Google from the M-word and competition scrutiny, considering its large and growing market share. But that’s changing. Another app maker called Google’s recent bundling moves reminiscent of the monopolistic heyday of Microsoft. “They’re treading on very thin ice,” he said.

What’s Worse Than Fragmentation?

In fact, Google now makes 78 of its own Android apps, and in some cases pre-installs more than a dozen of them as a package deal on new phones.

This is especially significant because the Google apps bind tightly together. Google has apps for pretty much all the most important functions on a phone or tablet — email, messaging, maps, storage, browsing, reading the news, finding and consuming media — and they are interlocked so that tasks flow naturally from one app to the next.

Users generally welcome that kind of consistency across software — just ask an iPhone user — and Google sees this as an opportunity to improve the quality of the Android community that has been plagued by fragmentation. However, it’s an awful lot of Google. It means Android is becoming more like an uber-Google experience than an underlying operating system topped with a selection of apps.

It could also be bad news for independent app makers. Samsung has given tremendous exposure to independent apps and services like Dropbox, Flipboard, SwiftKey and TripAdvisor by bundling and pre-installing them onto its devices. While a small group of beneficiaries has already reaped the benefits, Samsung could be less likely to cut deals to bundle more apps in the future, especially in cases where Google makes a competing app.

Without a strong advocate like Samsung, with all its market power and leverage, the barrier to success for smaller developers on the Android platform will be higher in this new era.

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19 comments
deV14nt
deV14nt

Never been here before, but I see you picked up Walt Mossberg. And I see you ended with all doom and gloom FUD for Android developers, as if their apps would suddenly vanish into thin air and they would go bankrupt.


I'm out.

Tony Gentilo
Tony Gentilo

"Users generally welcome that kind of consistency across software — just ask an iPhone user"


Are you truly and honestly trying to associate an iPhone user with Android users? ... You (the authors) have both failed this class. Come back and try again next semester..


Android users generally welcome (and insist on) THE CHOICE TO CHOOSE WHAT THEY WANT ON THE DEVICE THEY PAID X HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR, whereas iPhone users submit to Apple's infinite wisdom, and sacrifice an extreme amount of functionality and capability as a result.

onefussyone
onefussyone

"In fact, Google now makes 78 of its own Android apps, and in some cases pre-installs more than a dozen of them as a package deal on new phones."


Microsoft should take a lesson from this considering the dearth of quality apps in their store.

fourthletter
fourthletter

The article really misses out on a simple point, regardless of how many apps are bundled on devices Android will still allow you to replace any app with a 3rd party app, something neither Apple nor Microsoft allow. Still seems like a good envirnoment for 3rd party apps.

Osikiri
Osikiri

We already know every conventional electronics manufacturers including Samsung sucks at developing good software and user interface. They are just not born to be like Google, Apple & Microsoft.


The new Magazine UX from Samsung? Who cares, heavy users will simply get rid of it on their devices and use external launchers and services.

Walt French
Walt French

“not only will Samsung consider dumping or altering the Magazine UX interface…”

Heck, that bargaining chip alone must be worth a billion or two, since Google hates free, uncontrolled experimentation, while everybody knows how succesful Sammy's has been.

And such an ironclad commitment, too!

Vcarson
Vcarson

A similar problem affects the Kindle HDX from Amazon. Many apps from Google Play Store are not available for the Fire, even though Google wrote the Android-derived operating system. Forced to use apps from Android Play store or do without.

Thomas.Perkins
Thomas.Perkins

 It would seem that selling off Motorola could certainly be described as a "concession" on Google's part...

stunningmess
stunningmess

I don't get it, it's not like ChatOn makes Samsung money anyway, and their development rate will not match the likes of WeChat and Line, with so many better and free alternatives, it's not like people will buy galaxy for ChatOn. 


As a user, I don't have problem with "openness", I use a launcher, I can choose default apps, I don't even use chrome browser or have a search bar on my screen.

Bob_jingle
Bob_jingle

It's been known for a while that google was slowly close sourcing android and are taking the MS approach. Every version of android the android OS gets smaller while the google play package gets larger. Currently it's split 50-50 where as the first version of android it was 90-10 (10 being the google suite). I think more OEMs are going to give windows phone a look and this will lead to MS getting some marketshare in mobile.

SeanSmith
SeanSmith

It's called "bloatware" and it's so useless and confusing to consumers that some countries started banning it.


It's not about "Flipboard" it's about shipping devices with two video/music players.

mknopp
mknopp

I expect that right after this deal Samsung stepped up work on Tizen. I personally welcome it. More competition means better things for consumers. It would also go a long ways towards turning the current two horse race in mobile OSes into a three horse race, something that I hoped Microsoft would do, but that I seriously doubt they are capable of now.

Tim Bajarin
Tim Bajarin

So Samsung becomes more of a puppet for Google..

fourthletter
fourthletter

@Vcarson The problem with the Kindle Fire is that Amazon forked Android so it is not compatible with the Play Store you can only get apps from Amazon - which is completely down to Amazon's design.

fourthletter
fourthletter

@Bob_jingle You're basing the 50/50 split on what? Android is Android - Google makes more apps for things but you can still use a 3rd party alternative.

Even if your made up figures were correct why would OEMs go from 50/50 to 100% closed source with Microsoft?

fourthletter
fourthletter

@mknopp Competition is good for some things but standardisation is also good - otherwise ISO standards would not exist not to mention standard platforms like ARM and X86.

ken_h
ken_h

@Tim Bajarin Hmmm. Samsung annual revenue of 178.6 billion, vs. Google's 52.2 billion. Not sure I can go along with the puppet analogy.  These two cooperate because both parties see the strategic advantage in doing so. At least for now. 

fourthletter
fourthletter

@ken_h @Tim Bajarin Hardware makers ALWAYS bring on more revenue than internet/search/cloud/software companies, since they need raw materials to actually make devices. The figures you need are PROFITS!

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