Sun. Nov 27th, 2022

From taking an ECG reading to measuring your blood pressure, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch line can do a lot more than most other Wear OS devices. But there is a big problem: you cannot use these features without a Samsung smartphone. This is not just an exception; it’s the same story wherever you look in the Samsung ecosystem.

Take Samsung’s Buds, for example. Features like 360 ​​Audio and the proprietary Scalable audio codec are exclusive to Samsung smartphones. The list extends to software as well: Samsung Pay no longer works on third-party Android smartphones, and it can’t track a smart tag on non-Galaxy devices either.

Samsung has built such a compelling Android ecosystem that it’s hard to switch once you’re in.

Given how fluid Samsung’s ecosystem has become, I think it serves as a solid plan for Google to follow with the next Pixel Watch and Pixel Tablet, at least in part. For the first time in years, Google has a hardware portfolio that comes closer to rivaling what Apple and Samsung have to offer. But while the Pixel series of smartphones are revered for their imaging capabilities, the success of these upcoming form factors depends entirely on whether Google can build a cohesive ecosystem. This is why.

The Samsung ecosystem: a model for Google?

SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK2 Pro phone with headset

Adam Birney/Android Authority

Samsung’s focus on building an ecosystem may have taken years, but the strategy is now paying off. When faced with the prospect of losing functionality, existing owners are unlikely to switch to a competing smartphone manufacturer, let alone a completely different operating system. After all, we have seen how Apple gained iPhone market share with iMessage.

Samsung’s robust ecosystem comes at the expense of Android interoperability.

Skepticism aside, though, Samsung’s disregard for interoperability has allowed it to create bespoke experiences. In fact, you won’t find many of these features anywhere else in the Android space. The Continue Apps feature, for example, offers an Apple-like Handoff feature for voice calls, messages, notes, and browser tabs across devices. Samsung even has its own version of Universal Control that lets you control your tablet and phone using a laptop’s keyboard and trackpad. Google should take notes on the increasing depth of Samsung’s integrations.

However, if the Galaxy ecosystem doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll be happy to hear that competition is on the way. Thanks to Google’s renewed interest in tablets and other form factors, we’re starting to see ecosystem features trickle down to Android. With Android 13, you’ll soon be able to stream chat apps to Chrome OS. Google is also working on a feature that will allow you to share your clipboard between multiple Android devices.

With Android 13, Google laid the foundation for a multi-device ecosystem.

The features of the ecosystem extend beyond software gimmicks, but Google also has a fighting chance in the hardware race. While Samsung relies on its limited SmartThings ecosystem, for example, Google Home is compatible with virtually every smart home brand under the sun.

Imagine if your smartwatch could turn off the TV and lights when it detects that you’ve fallen asleep. Samsung already offers such functionality on the Galaxy Watch 5, but only if you also own a SmartThings device. There’s no real reason why Google can’t bring a similar feature to the Pixel Watch. With Google’s vast network of connected brands, this feature would be useful to a much larger audience.

Related: The Pixel Watch can’t succeed if Google reuses the same 8-year-old formula

Along those lines, Google could also leverage its machine learning expertise to make the Android ecosystem more personal and predictive. We know that the company experimented with bringing smart suggestions to the Android lock screen, only to abandon it at some point. A smartwatch with half a dozen sensors could go a long way toward improving the accuracy of such predictions. Otherwise, even displaying loyalty cards and payment methods through Google Wallet based on your current location would be a huge convenience bonus. The pieces are there, Google just has to put them together.

A Google ecosystem for some or harmony for all?

google quick pairing multi-device experience

While the prospect of a Google-centric ecosystem looks promising, the company shouldn’t follow Apple and Samsung’s exclusivity formula to the letter. Even if Google’s hardware market share isn’t dwarfed by other Android OEMs, it also has a responsibility to update the operating system every year. In other words, it needs to bring the benefits of its ecosystem to non-Pixel devices as well.

While previous Pixel-exclusive features like Fast Pair eventually made their way to stock Android, these migrations have become fairly infrequent. It’s also unclear whether current exclusive features, such as text extraction from the Recents menu and real-time dictation, will transfer to devices more widely.

The Pixel series gets exclusive software features every year, but few make their way to stock Android.

It doesn’t help that existing apps and services are showing signs of neglect. The Google Fit platform, for example, hasn’t changed much over the years, aside from the occasional visual overhaul. Perhaps it’s for this reason that the next Pixel Watch will include “deep Fitbit integration.” Google Fit will reportedly co-exist, for now, likely to serve users of other Wear OS devices. However, Fitbit’s features will likely remain exclusive to the Pixel Watch, which is a huge draw for potential customers.

Whether feature exclusivity should be the future of Android and Wear OS is perhaps a discussion for another day. For now, it’s clear that Google has to strike a careful balance between creating an attractive ecosystem for Pixel enthusiasts and upgrading the stock Android experience for everyone else. Samsung’s feature lockdown has undoubtedly been a blow to Android interoperability, and while Google should take inspiration from Samsung’s ecosystem, it also needs to restore that balance.

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