Google and Samsung are apparently working out a deal that would give Google products a boost on Samsung smartphones, according to a Bloomberg report. That means Google might get greater access to Samsung users, while Samsung’s own ecosystem takes a hit.
Samsung is the biggest smartphone maker in the world, and Google’s Android is its operating system of choice. However, if you’ve ever used a Samsung device, you know that Samsung has its own ecosystem that it keeps trying to push—to the point where there’s a fair degree of overlap. Bloomberg reports the deal seems to be focused on Google getting more control over search on Samsung phones, as well as getting Samsung to push aside its own app store and Bixby—the digital assistant no one asked for—in favor of the Play Store and Google Assistant.
There’s a lot about this potential deal to scrutinize, but at a glance, it feels an awful lot like Google’s taking on the role of Regina George from teen romcom classic Mean Girls, telling Samsung’s Gretchen “Stop trying to make Bixby happen! It’s not going to happen!” Samsung has tried very, very hard to make Bixby a thing—putting it front and center on its phones, smartwatches, and even in various earbuds over the years. It hasn’t worked, whereas Google Assistant has made serious progress during the same time period. With regard to Bixby, Google might have a point.
Bixby aside, the benefits of this potential deal for Google are obvious. It’s less clear what’s in it for Samsung. That said, the global pandemic led to smartphone sales plummeting 20% in the first quarter of 2020, with Gartner noting that Samsung saw a double-digit decline of 22.7%. That could mean Samsung has less bargaining power at this moment in time and agreeing to promote Google Assistant and the Play Store would mean a big payday for Samsung. As noted by Bloomberg, Google is happy to shell out the big bucks to be the default search engine on Apple’s Safari web browser. There’s no reason it wouldn’t pony up to be a more prominent fixture on every Samsung smartphone.
Still, this could also look like Google is somewhat... bullying Samsung when it’s down. It’s particularly interesting timing, given that Google is in the middle of an antitrust hearing. The Play Store, and whether Google used it as a means of bullying phone manufacturers into pre-loading its apps, was a matter of contention during the European Union’s antitrust investigation into Google in 2018. It’s also something that’s likely to come up during the current hearings, though experts are split on whether Google (and Apple) are suffocating the little guys with their platform dominance. Whether Congress’s antitrust hearings will have an impact on this rumored Samsung-Google deal remains to be seen.
“Like all Android device makers, Samsung is free to create its own app store and digital assistant,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg. “That’s one of the great features of the Android platform. And while we regularly talk with partners about ways to improve the user experience, we have no plans to change that.”
Meanwhile, Samsung also told Bloomberg that “Samsung remains committed to our own ecosystem and services. At the same time, Samsung closely works with Google and other partners to offer the best mobile experiences for our users.”
Hmm. These statements have all the typical corporate hedging you’d expect from official commentary. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if, on future handsets, Samsung’s homegrown alternatives took a back seat.