Why HTC’s Failure is a Disaster for Google

When the HTC Dream was released in 2008, it was more than just a response to the iPhone and the burgeoning smartphone revolution. It put a previously unknown company into the limelight. It would take another year and the release of the Evo and the Incredible for ‘HTC’ to become a household name, but it was the beginning of a new era for the small (by consumer electronics standards) Taiwanese company. Lacking serious competition in the Android space, it quickly rose in prominence. Since that successful year, however, HTC has faced a steep decline in popularity, the result of poor marketing, a confusing catalog of products, and Samsung’s marketing machine. It is hard to say if HTC will survive but, if it does not, it will not be the only victim of its demise. Google, the company behind all things Android, is quickly losing its grip on the OS it created.

Samsung is by far the largest Android OEM in the world. HTC is already a minor player in the smartphone market, but represents diversity in the Android sphere. With little to no competition, Samsung will have just as much if not more power over Android than Google. It is not inconceivable that Samsung would fork Android for its Galaxy smartphones much as Amazon did for its Kindle series of tablets. And who would care if they did? Sure, diehard Android users will care, but the average user will go on as usual, with hardly a bump along the way. Samsung could set up its own app store and would have little trouble attracting developers as long as app compatibility would be maintained in the newly forked OS. Other issues would persist, such as losing Google’s navigation software and Gmail client, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in short order with the right acquisitions and alliances. But would Samsung want to?

The way I see it, it is not a question of whether Samsung will fork Android, but when. If Samsung continues to dominate Android sales, the OS will increasingly lose its identity to the electronics giant. Eventually, it will only seem natural for Samsung to fork the OS and continue without the involvement of Google, giving Samsung full control over every element of its phone lineup. Google’s only saving grace will be if a Samsung is faced with strong competition that will erode its market share, breaking its unquestionable dominance. With HTC’s decline, however, it is becoming increasing less certain whether Android will continue to have the OEM diversity it enjoys today.