Taking Back the UI
Rather than trying to layer anything else on top of Android, Google is actually taking off layers and exposing the "pure" Android.
One of the more interesting announcements coming out of Google I/O 2013, the company's annual developer conference, was a new version of the new Samsung Galaxy S4, but using the native Android Jelly Bean (version 4.2) operating system. The Google version will be unlocked and run on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. Google will sell it directly through its online store for $649. The phones will go on sale June 26, and as they will be sold directly as opposed to through the carriers, there will be no "contract subsidy," so the customer is paying the full freight.
One of the peculiarities of Android is that each manufacturer can add their own user interface features on top of the core Android OS; Samsung's overlay is called TouchWiz. This is a key part of the product differentiation the manufacturers try to achieve, and why Android looks and acts differently on Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and everyone else who builds an Android-compatible smartphone.
According to Gartner, Samsung is far and away the biggest manufacturer of Android smartphones, shipping 64.7 million units in the first quarter of this year; that's more than twice as many as LG, Huawei, and ZTE (the second, third, and fourth largest suppliers) combined. It's also more than one-and-a-half times the number of iPhones that Apple shipped.
More than any other supplier, Samsung has been trying to establish its brand on Android, and has advertised heavily. In effect, Samsung seems determined to build its own iPhone-like franchise on the Android platform--well, its version of the Android platform.
A lot of this is of interest to enterprise buyers, as Samsung has put together a sales group specifically focused on the enterprise. The VP of sales for that group, Dave Lowe, appeared on some of our panels at Enterprise Connect last March. The commitment is more than just sales, as Samsung has also developed enterprise grade security and management features including the Samsung for Enterprise (SAFE) and recently-announced KNOX programs. That latter will provide a secure container on the device, a secure boot function to ensure that only authorized software can run, and a FIPS-certified VPN client.
Some of the UC&C companies have tried customizing the UI on mobile devices, most particularly Avaya with its Flare Experience that appeared first on the company's Desktop Video Device and now on the iPad; and Alcatel-Lucent with its OpenTouch Conversation for iPad.
Google's approach is interesting in that rather than trying to layer anything else on top of Android, it's actually taking off layers and exposing the "pure" Android. Google has not been particularly successful with its own Nexus branded phones that were manufactured by HTC (Nexus One), Samsung (Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus), and LG (Nexus 4). Only the last version was offered by a carrier, T-Mobile. Google also released two Android tablets, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 manufactured by Asus and Samsung respectively.
Without carrier financing, the "De-Samsunged" S4 will have a difficult time gaining traction, and it's unlikely the appeal will extend beyond a few hard-core techies and Android aficionados. I would be much more interested in a Windows Phone 8 device that is optimized for Lync. Microsoft is the only UC&C vendor that owns a mobile operating system and would have the ability to truly integrate the Lync experience with the phone's native interface. However, the company has given no indication that such a device is in the works.
Choice is one of the biggest drivers in the mobile industry, but a $649 price tag makes the Google offering a tough choice.