Despite the gutsy drive it showed at its developer conference this week, Samsung lacks a cohesive software strategy to win the software war ahead.
Samsung is aggressive, ambitious, but not well positioned. It wants to create a global digital platform that links its smartphones, tablets, TVs, and more, but it lacks what its archrival Apple has -- a unifying, proprietary operating system to tie them together.
I give the Korean giant kudos on several fronts. It got out ahead of Apple in delivering an iconic superphone with its Galaxy S4 and Note handsets. It also was first to market with a well designed, branded smart watch.
At its developer conference this week, Samsung said it will tie together its smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs into a giant global platform for developers. But under the hood, the company is offering a mess of separate mobile, TV, services, and now new "multiscreen" SDKs. They support, in part, Android, iOS, Windows, the Mac, Linux, and even sometimes BlackBerry environments.
If I were a software developer I would not know where to begin. It's unclear how to create a "write once, run anywhere" app that works across Samsung mobile and TV products. And nothing was said at the developer conference about tying in its smart watches, for which it has yet to ship an SDK.
More importantly, Samsung is ambitiously developing payment and online advertising services as part of its offerings. But it's not clear how these will work in a world dominated by Google and other players.
For its part, Apple has the luxury of a single iOS operating system it controls. However, it is unclear when or if it will try to launch an iTV or an iWatch.
Indeed, you could make the case Apple has lost its edge. Since the original iPhone and iPad it has delivered only incremental advances. Entering the TV market may represent too big a leap in global supply chains even for Apple. While Apple's iTunes leads the pack in digital media, it has no real play in online advertising and payments, and let's not even talk about location-based services.
Google is really the best positioned to offer the broadest platform. It owns Android and has a deep set of relatively well established web services from email to apps, maps, storage, payment, and advertising services.
In the end Samsung wants to own the digital world but is too far away from owning the software underpinnings to make it happen. Apple has a great position but seems to have lost its chutzpah. The next war is Google's to lose.