Google vs Samsung is no fair fight

There is an interesting back and forth at The Verge, where Nilay Patel and David Pierce have a Google vs. Samsung argument. Of course, the reality is they need each other, and there is no practical outcome where one is better off without the other.

For the sake of discussion, let’s accept the premise that Google and Samsung ought to be pitted against each other in battle. Who wins? Pierce has the dilemma boiled down to one question:

Google needs Samsung more than Samsung needs Google. Samsung has its own platforms, its own services, its own software. It’s vertically integrated, reliant on no other company to make its products. Android could disappear tomorrow and Samsung would just switch to Tizen — and I’m not sure how many consumers would even notice the change.

I agree this is the right way to decide the debate. But I disagree with the conclusion.

We all know what would happen if Samsung switched to Tizen: Samsung would end up just like Microsoft-Nokia.

Let’s examine the similarities.

Operating system few support: In Samsung’s case, Tizen would be even less supported than Windows Phone, a platform with its own services and software – one more developed and robust than Tizen. Yet, consumers would see advertisements everywhere about apps on Apple’s App Store and Google play, and so would only buy iPhones and Android phones. No Samsung? No problem. LG, HTC, Motorola and the increasing number of Chinese manufacturers will be more than happy to step in.

Big brands, big marketing budgets: Despite two powerful brands and a big marketing budget for Windows Phone, Microsoft and Nokia weren’t able to get past the lack of market demand as a result of a weaker ecosystem. Samsung has a great brand, but it’s a brand that is at best on par with Microsoft’s. In Interbrand’s top 100 global brands of 2013, Microsoft ranks #5 while Samsung is #8.

A big marketing budget didn’t save Microsoft and Nokia, just as Samsung’s $14 billion marketing spend didn’t save the Samsung phones from losing momentum. According to CNN Money:

Smartphone and tablet sales took a pretty big beating, according to Samsung. The company is especially struggling to get customers in Europe and China interested, where competition against the likes of Apple (AAPL, Tech30) and newer Asian company such as Lenovo (LNVGF), ZTE (ZTCOF), and Huawei, is intense.

Manufacturing scale: Nokia was the world’s largest phone manufacturer not too long ago. Nokia made phones for every price point, from cheap to top-of-the-line Lumias with Carl Zeiss cameras. It made no difference. Lumias are still a market afterthought. No matter how cheaply Nokia and Samsung can make phones at scale, they can’t overcome lack of demand due to low developer support. And they probably can’t ever make phones as cheaply as Chinese manufacturers.

Nokia and Microsoft have the three strengths that Samsung has – a capable, standalone platform, marketing and manufacturing – yet it wasn’t enough to persuade users to adopt a platform few companies support. This, as it was for the PC, is the key to winning the war. The company that owns the platform is the ultimate winner.

From that perspective, it is Google that wields the great battle axe; Apple with the mighty mace; Samsung a clumsy cudgel; and Microsoft, only a knife to the fight.

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