Samsung: Android’s emerging co-opetition

Gartner released its wrap-up of the 2012 mobile handset market today, estimating that the overall handset market shrank by 1.7 percent due to the struggling worldwide economy and “shifting consumer preferences.” And there’s no shortage of subplots in the data-heavy report: Apple’s overall handset sales jumped substantially even as iOS’s market share dipped, Windows Phone saw incremental gains as it threatened to overtake BlackBerry in third place, and Huawei’s smartphone business began to gain impressive traction in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps most important, though, is Samsung’s increasing dominance in the world of hardware manufacturers. Samsung topped all handset vendors with a 22 percent market share in 2012, and it claimed 42.5 percent of all Android sales — no other manufacturer of Android phones comes close. Indeed, “(T)he Android brand is being overshadowed by Samsung’s brand making the Galaxy name nearly a synonym for Android phones in consumers’ mind share,” Gartner analyst Anshul Gupta said in a prepared statement.

That gives Samsung an opportunity to use Google’s own mobile operating system to compete against the overall Android market. Android’s fragmentation remains a problem for the world’s most popular mobile platform, and Google Play is an overwhelming app warehouse where discovery is a nightmare. Samsung plans to step up its game against Google Play by boosting its own app store, as it reminded us last week when it unveiled a new app initiative with EA’s mobile division. And it is beginning to move aggressively into the enterprise with Android-based devices that feature top-notch security and messaging features. Android’s open-source nature has fueled its rise to dominance in the mobile world, but it has clearly become a double-edged sword in the hands of its biggest manufacturing partner.