Samsung and Microsoft team up to compete with Apple's ecosystem

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Samsung and Microsoft team up to compete with Apple's ecosystem
During the presentation of Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy Note 10, there was a part that was unusual for the launch of a new Android device. That was when Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, took the stage. The appearance was part of the announcement of a new, deeper partnership between Samsung and Microsoft. The goal? Officially, to offer a better workflow between your Galaxy smartphone and your computer. But if you’re reading between the lines, it’s about competing with Apple at what it does best.

A good smartphone experience on its own is not enough

The Android side of the smartphone world is known for its diversity. Countless manufacturers offer hardware all over the spectrum, from sleek-looking high-end phones to ones built like tanks and meant to survive even the roughest conditions. One thing Android phone makers can’t provide to their customers, however, is a comprehensive ecosystem that spans between all the devices they use daily: computers, tablets, smartwatches and so on. Now, of course, Android has tablets covered and Google also provides Wear OS, the operating system for smartwatches, although neither is really in a competitive state right now.

The most important link consumers need between their gadgets is the one between their smartphones and computers. Most working adults are either out and about and resort to their smartphones for work-related tasks or are at their desks, where a computer or a laptop takes over. Having a good synergy between the two is vital for a fluid and frustration-free workflow.

In that regard, right now Apple has the upper hand. After all, the company made its name with its Mac computers way before it started making iPhones. And although globally Apple’s desktop operating system market share is much lower than that of Microsoft, plenty of companies work exclusively with Apple’s computer hardware, whether that’s Macs or MacBook laptops. This naturally makes iPhones the preferred mobile devices for the people that work in such environments. 

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A match made in tech heaven

So, what’s your alternative if you’re not willing to be part of Apple’s ecosystem? Well, we all know what happened to Microsoft’s attempt at making smartphone software. It currently holds less than 1% of the market. You have Android dominating the smartphone OS and Microsoft doing the same when it comes to computers. It only seems logical then that the solution is for those two operating systems to start working together. That’s easier said than done, however.
Android is represented by hundreds of different hardware manufacturers. Luckily, there are only a few that hold most of the market and the biggest one is Samsung. It seems Samsung has polished its smartphones to a point where it feels comfortable focusing on the added value they can provide. It launched its desktop experience for smartphones called DeX a couple of years ago but apparently having a PC-looking version of your phone that you can operate with a keyboard and mouse is not quite enough. So this year, the tech giant is bringing in the big boys to help. Now you can connect your Galaxy Note to a laptop or a computer and have a sort of multiplatform experience, but beyond that, Microsoft apps like Your Phone, Outlook and One Drive will work even better with Samsung phones.
While that is not as ideal as having both devices made by the same company, it certainly is a step in the right direction. Sure, not everyone is excited about having to rely on Microsoft’s solutions for better PC-smartphone cooperation, but the options are very limited if you want to go mainstream. Google has its Chrome OS which powers a small percentage of notebooks, including some made by Samsung, but it has a long way before it can be a viable alternative to Windows. For the time being Samsung has chosen team Microsoft, but how deep can that partnership go?

Will we see a dual-boot Samsung phone in the future?

With high-end smartphones becoming as powerful as some laptops, new opportunities open for brands to improve the capabilities of their products. DeX mode is Samsung’s current desktop experience, but what if it’s just a stepping stone for something else? Once people are familiar with using their phone with PC peripherals it might be time to introduce them to something else that's familiar: Windows. 

Imagine that: you’re out and about using your Galaxy Note 11 (we’re talking about the future after all) as you’re used to, then you get to the office, plug in the USB Type-C cable to a suitable monitor (or a docking station) and you’re greeted with the familiar Windows interface, complete with all the well-known apps you've come to expect with it. While that may have sounded ridiculous just a few years ago, now, following the recent announcements, it might be the next logical step. Sure, for some workloads a phone will never be powerful enough to replace a PC, but plenty of users never launch more than a text editor and a browser on their computers. 

But why get Windows involved at all then? Well, for one, the aforementioned familiarity. No need to learn the ins and outs of a new desktop solution along with all its quirks. Secondly, it allows access to another ecosystem that's even richer than Android and well-established in the professional world. A high-end smartphone from the future could well be good enough to completely replace a desktop PC for at least some users. Sure, no one will throw away their existing one and put a dock for their smartphone instead, but once the time comes for an upgrade, people might think twice if they really need to spend the extra money or their phone will work just fine as a replacement. And it's not surprising that if such a time comes, Microsoft would want to remain relevant by cooperating with the biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Obviously, this being a hypothetical scenario, it's hard to tell what sort of Windows implementation will be suitable for the task. Microsoft has its fair share of experience with mobile devices and an R&D budget few companies can afford, so the task of tailoring a version of Windows for Samsung's phones is not an impossible one. After all, what’s a more seamless workflow between your smartphone and computer than your smartphone being your computer as well? Your files are already there, your apps, messages, everything is ready to be accessed, just from a different operating system. 

Of course, that doesn't mean the two companies would stop working on improving the current solution. Surely, they want to deliver an even better experience when using your computer with your Galaxy phone, even if its one of their cheaper devices. But the added functionality of a standalone Windows on board might be the move that seriously challenges Apple. But let's not forget the other advantage Apple has — the suite of creative software that’s only available for its operating system. That exclusivity isn't going away anytime soon. Still, on Windows, there are viable alternatives to all of them, which makes it the next best thing.

An intriguing future lies ahead

Will other Android phone makers seek partnership with Microsoft? Huawei is already working with the software giant for the development of its MateBook laptops so it won’t be surprising to see the cooperation extended to its smartphones as well if the trade war between China and the US doesn’t get in the way that is. Or will Google find a way to make its ChromeOS mainstream and take a sizable chunk of the PC market for itself? Either way, it will be quite interesting to see how things will progress on that front in the next couple of years.

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