Samsung makes my head hurt

So Samsung won’t buy webOS after all. Instead, it is said to be interested in MeeGo, which Intel may want to sell. And HP will not sell the webOS team, which has been transferred from the PC division, which will be sold, to a strategy division, which will stay. Good, HP can use some strategy. As can Samsung.

That thud you heard? I fell because my head is spinning.

Don’t expect me to crack the insidious masterplan behind all these moves: I’m as confused as everybody else. But I’m supposed to be a mobile platform strategist (whatever that may mean), so here we go anyway:

  1. Both Samsung and HTC remark that they need their own OS in the long term. The purpose of having an OS is to own the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  2. Samsung is reported to be in talks with HP about webOS.
  3. Google buys Motorola. Google wants to make devices in order to own the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  4. This raises serious questions about Android’s future. The other Android vendors will not be happy.
  5. Thus Samsung’s and HTC’s quest for a new OS becomes more urgent. There are three candidates: Windows Phone, webOS, and MeeGo.
  6. The Windows Phone deal is bad: instead of being beholden to Google the device vendors would have to do as Microsoft tells them. And they’d have to pay royalties. And they don’t get to control the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  7. And Microsoft is threatening to integrate Skype in Windows Phone, and that is something the mobile operators really won’t like — free phone calls are rather high on their Things To Hate list. They could very well cut offenders out of their retail channels, which is something Samsung and HTC really won’t like. (See also Nokia, upcoming problems of.)
  8. Thus Windows Phone will be more expensive and far harder to sell than Android, and it doesn’t solve the fundamental dependency problem. Windows Phone is not the solution.
  9. HP, webOS’s owner, which is in the process of being transformed into an upscale consultancy firm (why? don’t we have enough of them already?), wants to get rid of its hardware divisions, including mobile. They find that entering the mobile market is expensive, in tens of billions of dollars values of expensive, and don’t want to foot the bill. Besides, mobile was the previous CEO’s hobby.
  10. When the MotoGoogle bombshell breaks HP hurriedly announces webOS is for sale (which also forces them to reveal the entire reorganisation plan prematurely). They might make a good price for webOS now that many companies are looking for a replacement for Android. So sell it to the highest bidder, whom everbody assumes to be Samsung.
  11. Then Samsung states it will never buy webOS.
  12. Why did the Samsung deal fall through? It could be that HP is having second thoughts about outright sale of webOS, and decided to temporise. If this is true, HP is making a mistake. It’s not a software company, and webOS-as-software in HP would be like a swan in a tractor factory: pretty to look at, but not exactly useful, or at one with the environment.
  13. Or maybe HP asked too high a price, or made other demands that Samsung could not swallow.
  14. Intel, MeeGo’s owner, was betrayed by Nokia, which has stupdily decided to go Windows Phone. Thus Intel owns a promising but half-developed OS without any devices. It does not want to pay billions to enter the mobile market.
  15. Intel draws the same conclusion as HP: sell it now that the market is hot.
  16. Samsung is said to be interested. So Samsung is shopping around for mobile OSs, presumably to replace Android.
  17. However.
  18. Samsung already has its own OS: bada. I always assumed that it would quietly grow bada in the background while Android is in the spotlights, and replace Android by bada as soon as the OS is ready to take on iOS and Android. I always considered this an excellent strategy.
  19. Samsung’s latest actions contradict this theory, however. Why does it need a replacement for Android if it already has bada?
  20. Is Samsung muddying the waters so that others won’t pick up a mobile OS in this crucial period? Possible, but so devious that it is unlikely.
  21. Or is Samsung genuinely interested in a non-bada replacement for Android for deep strategic reasons that nobody else has guessed yet? Possible, but without a good explanation I don’t buy it.
  22. Or is it just confused? Samsung is just about the only mobile company apart from Apple and Google that has shown the capability to set long-term strategies. This confusion is atypical — if your frame of reference is the two years before the MotoGoogle bombshell.
  23. All of the above except for bada also goes for HTC. Not a peep from them, though. Is HTC working toward a coup? Silently, without all the fuss Samsung is making? Or does it lack the money? Despite its success HTC is far smaller than Samsung, and it may have quietly given up its dream of an own OS.
  24. In theory all of the above except for bada also goes for Sony Ericsson, LG, and other Android vendors, but they are already in a lousy position and are less likely to take bold and expensive action.
  25. We are at a breakpoint in the mobile platform market. It is likely that Samsung (or HTC, or both) will shortly make a move that defines Android’s future, and with it the mobile platform market’s.
  26. Doing nothing also counts as a move.
  27. Google has no say in the matter. The more you hear about Android vendors being graciously allowed to sing Google’s praises for remaining dedicated to Android’s future, the surer you are that Google is losing its grip.

No doubt we’ll have another bombshell in a few days, after which this line of reasoning turns out to be totally outdated, not to mention misguided and short-sighted. But it is where I stand right now.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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