Worries Aside, Samsung’s Developer Push Is Good News

Samsung needs more apps to work with the unique features of its Galaxy phones and tablets.

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Come late October, Samsung will follow in the footsteps of Apple, Google and Microsoft and hold its own developer conference.

These events tend to be more than just workshops for software makers. Apple, Google and Microsoft all make a habit of announcing new products at their respective conferences, and Samsung could certainly use its own conference as a stage for big news.

But even if Samsung’s conference only serves its stated purpose of giving guidance to app developers, it’s easy to see why the event would be necessary and beneficial. And no, it doesn’t have to do with Samsung cutting its reliance on Google, as some tech writers have speculated–at least not directly. Samsung, quite simply, needs more apps to work with the unique features of its Galaxy phones and tablets.

There used to be a rule of thumb about Android devices that tried doing unique things with hardware or software: If they required any sort of support from app developers, they were basically dead in the water. Remember Kyocera’s dual-screened Echo phone? It was doomed from the start because apps had to be specifically designed to take advantage of both screens. Support from developers was predictably limited, and the Echo flopped.

Samsung is in a much better position because of its huge market presence, but the company still needs to rally developers to make their apps work with Samsung’s unique hardware and software.

Consider, for example, Samsung’s Galaxy Note line of jumbo phones and tablets, all of which include a stylus known as the S Pen. The Galaxy Note knows when you’re holding the pen just above the screen, and how hard you’re pushing down while writing. But these features rely on support from app developers, and while Samsung does bundle its own S Pen apps with the Note, the vast majority of Android apps don’t take advantage of pressure sensitivity or proximity sensing. Developer support isn’t completely absent–there’s a decent selection of S Pen apps available in the Google Play Store to those who seek them out–but surely Samsung would like a lot more support than there is now.

The same is true for Samsung’s other smartphones and tablets. Many Samsung devices, for example, now ship with a feature called “Multi Window,” which allows you to run two apps side-by-side at the same time. Again, it’s up to app developers to support this feature, and not many do. (You can make any app work with Multi Window through unofficial methods, but that’s not really ideal.)

These aren’t the only examples. A quick look through Samsung’s website shows lots of other cases where Samsung needs developers, such as digital wallet services and streaming media between Samsung phones, tablets and televisions. And with rumors that Samsung is working on a smartwatch for this year, developer support will become even more important.

Google does have reason to worry, but not so much about Samsung creating a fork of Android, as Amazon has done for its Kindle Fire tablets. For Samsung, being able to hook into Google’s apps and services is too important, and Google benefits from Samsung’s wide reach as well. As Google’s Android boss Sundar Pichai has said, the relation is “symbiotic.”

The bigger concern is that Samsung and Google may soon be competing for developers’ attention in areas where they could be working together. Samsung Wallet, for instance, is a threat to Google’s own digital wallet efforts. And if Samsung decides to build a smartwatch with its own ecosystem of apps, it could detract from Google’s smartwatch efforts by creating more fragmentation headaches for developers.

I don’t want to overthink this too much before the event actually happens, but to me the ideal scenario is for Samsung to keep finding ways to add to the core Android experience, as it has done with the S Pen and Multi Window, instead of creating more overlap. One way or another, Samsung’s conference should be interesting to watch, even if you aren’t a maker of apps yourself.

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