A bit controversial, but hear me out. Android is one of Google's most valuable products. It powers billions of devices across the globe. Through Android, Google's other services like search, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, etc have access to an unrivalled user base. That's how it has basically shifted the user acquisition cost to you, the user. You buy the Android phone and you use its services. It just laughs its way to the bank with all that ad and subscription revenue.
Google does spend considerable resources updating Android each year. In recent years we've seen the company improve the user interface, focus on improving privacy and security as well as provide features that make our lives easier. Android will remain an ongoing project since there's always room for improvement.
With that being said, it's also true that Google enjoys a distinct advantage with Android. It has no true competitor other than iOS. This is the duopoly that rules the mobile landscape now. Neither threatens the other and both exist in their own spheres. All other operating systems have been vanquished.
Does that give Google cause to become complacent? There's no rival chasing at its heels, after all. Android is the only option for companies who want to make a smartphone and don't happen to be Apple. The ecosystem and developer support are so strong that trying to push a new operating system against Android is simply an impossible task.
This complacency has manifested itself in more ways than one. Stock Android is devoid of many useful apps and features that third-party Android OEMs have created. Even the interface improvements that Google introduces every year tend to be overshadowed by the custom skins that almost all OEMs slap on their devices.
Stock Android has also become a relic of the past. OEMs that opted to ship devices with an uncustomized version of Android have all but disappeared. Google's own Pixel smartphones don't account for more than a rounding error on global smartphone shipment figures. OEM's software customizations have clearly become a major draw for consumers.
This is something that Samsung has excelled in. Its custom Android skin, One UI as it's called now, has gone through a process of immense refinement over the years. The kind of features that it now provides remains unmatched. Samsung has also been very effective at creating native apps that further extend the capabilities of its Galaxy devices.
Samsung has clearly taken the lead in advancing the cause of Android, perhaps more so than Google itself. Then again, Samsung does happen to be the largest global vendor of Android devices. It may rely on Google for the OS but there's no question that it's Google that needs Samsung and not the other way around.
Often it feels that a light bulb goes off at Google whenever it sees Samsung create a feature that Android should have had. Then it wastes no time in copying that feature. Here's an example and here's another, and in the immortal words of DJ Khaled, another one.
Let's not forget that several Android 12 features are copied from One UI and even from Samsung's outdated TouchWiz UI!. Samsung's One UI features are also being copied for Android 13. Today, Google went ahead and copied Samsung's Smart Switch app.
It's as if Google is sitting in an exam and looking over the shoulder of the smart kid – that's Samsung in this scenario – hoping to copy its work. Where it should have been Google taking the lead, it's Samsung that's influencing some of the major feature additions to Android.
Is it time for Google to accept the inevitable and leave it all up to Samsung? The two companies are close partners. They have collaborated on new software experiences for foldable smartphones. Let's not forget, that it's Samsung that has made Wear OS relevant again. Google's wearable OS was in purgatory before Samsung yanked it out.
Perhaps Google needs to exhibit more impartiality when it comes to Android proper. A Wear OS-like arrangement for Android may not be welcomed by its other OEM partners. That's not to say closer collaboration won't benefit everyone.
Samsung clearly has some great ideas on how to improve Android's functionality. All Google needs to do is accept it.